First Coast Areas Still Reeling After Hurricane Matthew

Jan 18, 2017

Bridget Jones points to hurricane damage still evident months later at the Walter Jones Historical Park in Mandarin.
Credit Michelle Corum / WJCT

Debris from fallen trees and washed-up trash from the river still litter the ground months after the Category 3 storm brushed the First Coast. Broken boards from the dock are scattered like leaves. A gate blocks off the dock and bears a large warning sign: “Keep off dock under repair,” in big red letters.

The remaining few yards behind the fence are dangerous and cannot be used.

Walter Jones Historical Park in Mandarin was home to the County Dock, but sustained extensive damage from the hurricane last October.

Mandarin resident Bridget Jones wants to see city officials make an effort to start a cleanup and restoration project in the park.

Jones lives about half a mile away from the park and is worried that the debris is damaging the park’s growth. She said a lot of photographers used this dock for wedding and prom photoshoots, but now there’s nothing but trash to look at.

Debris from Hurricane Matthew remains at the park.
Credit Michelle Corum / WJCT

“Much of the dock is missing. I mean, it’s clearly gone. There’s no planks to walk [on] and it’s been gated off, so the missing parts are unfortunately what we’re seeing down here,” Jones said.

Councilman Matt Schellenberg used to encourage residents to visit the park and enjoy the beauty of walking out over the river. He said the first order of business after the hurricane was to ensure the roads in Mandarin were clear for traffic. Now the Public Works Authority can focus on cleaning up the parks and he hopes that will be done in the first quarter of this year.

“Unfortunately this hurts us a little bit because we were proceeding with a small boat ramp for only kayaks and canoes, right adjacent to the dock that was destroyed,” Schellenberg said.

Schellenberg said they are looking to build both docks simultaneously, but the money from FEMA won't be in for the next six to 12 months.

An alternative dock at Mandarin Park is a 10 minute drive from Walter Jones Historical Park on the south end of Mandarin Road. It faces Julington Creek instead of the St. John’s River, but still provides a place for people to enjoy being on the water.

“Although it’s not as long, it’s some place that people can actually go and sit … and enjoy the river right there,” Schellenberg said.

However, the County Dock wasn’t the only walkway to fall victim to Mother Nature.

The Jacksonville Pier has been closed to the public after about 350 feet of the structure was ripped away during the hurricane. The pier was supposed to withstand winds up to 190 mph, but collapsed at just 90 mph.

"Keep off dock" sign at the Walter Jones Historical Park.
Credit Michelle Corum / WJCT

Councilman Keith Doherty said the pier is a focal point of the Jacksonville Beach area and wants to see it rebuilt as quick as possible. The summer season is coming up, and with warmer weather comes more people, making construction efforts difficult.

Before any restorations begin, a dive team has to determine which posts, if any, to reset or if the whole pier just needs to be rebuilt. Doherty said while a two year timeline is realistic for pier reconstruction, he wants to see it done in about six months.

Doherty said smaller projects are being tackled.

Damaged beach accesses have already started being repaired. The storm had eroded away sand from the east sides of the dune walkovers, resulting in hazardous drop-offs, and wooden boards had come up. The sand dunes are also in the process of being repaired.

“We have so much potential in Jacksonville Beach to make it as a really, really cool, modern, successful and safe destination and a really great place to live,” Doherty said. “When I look at things like the pier, I get a little frustrated at the lack of progress and the speed at which city construction is done.”

Intern Serena Summerfield can be reached at sumserfield@gmail.com, 904-358-6317 or on Twitter @sumserfield

Michelle Corum can be reached at mcorum@wjct.org, 904-358-6308 or on Twitter @MCorumonME