It’s not something the County Commission wanted to do, but it had no choice.
With its administration’s promise that it’s only for a short time–a matter of days–the Flagler County Commission this afternoon approved drawing $15.7 million out of its reserves to pay the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the county’s share of the cost of the long-awaited beach-rebuilding project from just north of the Flagler Beach pier to Gamble Rogers State Recreation Area. The Corps is set to bid out the project in late February.
The commission did so by approving a pair of so-called “interfund loans” out of its reserves, one for $13.6 million, and one for $2.145 million, the latter out of its Disaster Recovery fund.
Flagler County’s cost share of that federal project is $15.74 million. That’s the sum that will be wired to the Corps of Engineers, says John Brower, the county’s finance director. The federal government is picking up the remaining cost of what will exceed $35 million by the time more than 1.5 million cubic yards of sand are duped on 3.5 miles of beach.
Flagler County itself is not actually paying for its share: the Florida Department of Transportation is picking up that cost–at some point. (The Legislature awarded the additional $2.145 million now coming out of the Disaster Recovery fund.)
“We do expect that the bulk of the funding that we’re receiving to pay for the non federal portion will be coming from FDOT,” County Administrator Heidi Petito told the County Commission today.”
The county expected the money from the state Friday. Had that happened, Petito would not have had to submit the request for the $16.1 million today. But the money wasn’t wired. It became essential for the county to front the money from its reserves, so as not to risk further delays in the Army Corps’ schedule. The project has been delayed many years as it is. The County Commission is not meeting again until February.
“We request the non-federal share in the amount of $15,740,000 to be deposited via wire transfer no later than January 19, 2024,” the Army Corps’ Milan Mora wrote the county on Dec. 11, “to avoid any delays with the start of the procurement package review currently scheduled to start January 29, 2024, followed by contract advertisement on February 29, 2024.” Though that’s not mentioned in the Mora letter, Petito said the county has a “grace period” until Jan. 29.
Petito said the money might never leave the county’s reserves by the time the state’s payment comes through. But commissioners were nervous about the amount of money that could be pulled out, not only cutting the reserves more than in half, but also reducing the county’s operational reserve to the equivalent of four weeks or less, instead of eight. This would not be the time for the county to experience an unforeseen, costly event.
“At the worst what type of carry–how many days are we looking at?” Commission Chairman Andy Dance asked.
“There’s no guarantee. Typically it’s quick,” Petito said.
The administration is hoping not to have to draw down the reserves. “We notice being processed right now. It’s just a timing issue,” Al Hadeed, the county attorney who’s shepherded te Army Corps project from its inception through a maze of complications, said.
The Army Corps, Flagler County and Flagler Beach began exploring a beach “renourishment,” or rebuilding, project south of the pier over 20 years ago, when costs would have been a fraction of what they became. A feasibility study was completed in 2014. Congress approved funding a 2.6-mile rebuilding segment in 2017. The county and the Army Corps signed an agreement in 2019 committing Flagler County to a 50-year rebuilding project for that segment, and a concurrent payment responsibility. The agreement also extends the breadth of the project to North 7th Street at one end, an to 1,000 feet north of Gamble Rogers State Recreation Area at the south end.
For the initial project–the one starting this year–the county’s share would be 35 percent, the federal share would be 65 percent. But in subsequent “renourishments,” which, in 2019, were expected to happen every nine or 10 years, the county’s share would rise to 50 percent. While Flagler County–and more particularly, Faith al-Khatib, the former county engineer–successfully negotiated funding for the initial stage that relies entirely on state sources, no such agreements are in place for the 50 percent cost-share portion in future renourishments, and al-Khatib mysteriously disappeared off the county’s employment last year. But state government has been shifting increasing shares of the state budget to combating sea rise, calling it by a euphemism (“resiliency”) and awarding local coastal governments millions in aid to repair beaches, on an emergency and more relatively durable basis.
The dune-rebuilding the Corps of Engineers is about to start in Flagler Beach will dredge a somewhat darker kind of sand than the version whitening beaches now, from a borrow site 10.25 nautical miles offshore. The reconstruction will widen the existing beach, providing more recreation area. But Jason Harrah, the Corps’ project engineer from its start, often cautions that the initial renourishment may need additional reconstruction for it to stick. Even then, serious storms, natural erosion and rising seas will continue grinding away at the sand. The Corps expects to have to rebuild the sands every 11 years, sooner in case of major disasters.
Construction is expected to begin in May or June, and to be completed by January 2025.