Flagler County has announced it’s partnering with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on a beach renourishment project in Flagler Beach.
The County has been working with the Army Corps for more than a decade to get this project, dubbed the Flagler County Coastal Storm Risk Management Project, started.
“It is an honor to host this ceremonial signing of Flagler County’s agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers for this beach renourishment project,” Flagler County Commission Chair Donald O’Brien said Tuesday. “It's so important for us to have this project, so that we protect our shoreline and make sure that we protect all that property behind A1A, and our businesses, as well.”
Army Corps Jacksonville District Commander Colonel Andrew Kelly said the project will span less than three miles in Flagler Beach, from the north side of 6th St. to the south side of 28th St., an area that was hit hard by Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and then again by Hurricane Irma in 2017.
Robert Gamblain Jr. owns Beach Belly Bob’s, a sandwich shop between 18th St. and 19th St. with a view of A1A and the beach.
“Matthew affected me specifically because the road [A1A] was totally washed away,” he said. “So we had to reroute traffic to the back of our business.”
He said foot traffic and revenue dropped while the road was being repaired.
“Most storefronts are setup so that we can advertise for customers to come in from the front. So having customers come in through the back is not ideal, because people can't really see you that well,” he explained.
Irma, on the other hand, flooded many homes in the area, forcing residents to stay in rental properties as their homes were being repaired.
“The problem with that is that we had no revenue from tourism,” Gamblain said. “And then also those people that lost their homes weren't spending a lot of money going out to eat because they were trying to save their money to help repair their homes.”
After initial temporary repairs were made to A1A, Gamblain said traffic and revenue returned to pre-Matthew/Irma levels. But he’s worried numbers could dip again as work is done on this new beach renourishment project.
“Obviously, the big trucks and stuff are a concern because people like to see the scenic access as they're driving back and forth,” he said. “I think it's going to change, also, some traffic patterns when they need to have access to and from the beach. So that's going to affect us.”
But he thinks when the project’s done Flagler Beach will have more and higher quality beach areas for people to visit, which could be a boon for a city that’s been struggling with storm damage for years now.
About 550,000 cubic yards of sand will be placed during the initial phase of the beach renourishment project, which is expected to cost about $17.5 million. The DEP has committed to covering half of the $6.12 million local match and the Florida Department of Transportation is throwing in another $2.2 million.
The Army Corps expects to start the project in May 2020 and wrap things up by December.
“We have seen the value of these shore protection projects over and over,” Kelly said. “You only have to look a few miles to the North, where Duval County beaches lost over 1.3 million cubic yards of sand in less than 12 months to hurricanes Matthew and Irma. Because of a similar agreement signed decades ago, we were able to repair the beaches so quickly and professionally that Duval County was named one of the four best restored beaches in the nation for 2019.”
While there may not necessarily be more hurricanes in the future, climate scientists say there will likely be more intense hurricanes, like Irma and Matthew, that carry higher wind speeds and bring more rain as a result of global warming. That’s because warmer waters fuel more intense storms and warmer air temperatures hold more moisture, which leads to more rainfall.
These impacts, as well as storm surge, are exacerbated by sea level rise, increasing the need for protective measures in coastal communities like Flagler Beach.
The Army Corps expects this project to reduce local damages by as much as 95% over a 50-year period of federal participation. It’s also expected to yield close to $1.2 million in annual benefits for the community and it will provide about three acres of habitat for threatened and endangered species, like sea turtles and piping plovers, as well as other wildlife.
O’Brien, Kelly and County Attorney Al Hadeed signed the agreement in front of an audience on Tuesday that included both the Flagler County and Flagler Beach Commissions, representatives from U.S. Senator Rick Scott’s office, officials from Representative Paul Renner’s Office, Director of Transportation Operations for the Florida Department of Transportation Alan Hyman as well as Heather Webber and Chrissy Sellers, both with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Northeast District.