For a long time, it seemed as if hurricanes and big storms played favorites. Some communities would be lashed again and again. Others – including Volusia and Flagler counties – seemed immune.
The last 15 years have shown us how mistaken we were. The storms this area has faced are bigger, more frequent, more vicious. Matthew, Irma and Dorian were particularly hard on the picturesque, old-Florida stretch of Flagler Beach.
[READ MORE: Flagler Beach residents briefed on dune restoration efforts]
The costs can be tallied across multiple fronts. The terror of the storms themselves, which sent water flooding into homes up and down the coast. The long slog toward recovery on each property, replacing blue tarps with new roofing or ripping out water-logged drywall and cabinets.
Binding everyone together was the arduous process of restoring, and then shoring up, State Road A1A where Matthew’s fury washed it out.
Now the county is embarking on the biggest dune- and beach-restoration project it’s ever seen, one that should create a wider, more resilient beach. The current project – shoring up 2.6 miles of beach south of the Flagler Beach Pier – carries a $17.5 million price tag and will involve pumping ocean-bottom sand from a site miles offshore and using it to stabilize the beach, at least for now.
The county has a remarkably good deal – not only are state and federal grants paying for the dune restoration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers signed a 50-year agreement to come back and restore the beach in the event of another “declared” storm – and quickly, too, without the need to go through extensive permitting. The beach will also be on a 10-to-12 year cycle to be “renourished” with more sand.
Humans aren’t the only beneficiary. Beach species, including sea turtles and shore birds, will gain more habitat.
The challenge now is to get permission from property owners to access the beach across their land. They should say yes. For a little bit of inconvenience, they will get a stronger beach.
But it’s not going to be strong enough to resist a direct hit, or even just another brush from a big hurricane. And it doesn’t address one of the biggest questions facing Flagler Beach, Ormond Beach, New Smyrna Beach and Daytona Beach: How many more millions – tens of millions, billions – should the federal and state governments keep pouring on the shore as increasingly extreme weather washes it away? Granted, Flagler Beach and Flagler County aren’t paying … but taxpayer dollars are.
[READ MORE: Sea level rise, storms prompt Flagler to create ‘resiliency’ board]
Certainly, nobody wants to see charming communities like Flagler Beach wash away with the tide. Nobody wants to give up the pleasure of driving that length of A1A. And the same kinds of questions are facing communities everywhere on Florida’s coastline.
There are no easy answers. For now, we believe that this solution – which stops short of destructive coastal “armoring,” preserving the beach and even making it slightly bigger – makes sense. But if current weather trends continue, sooner or later, communities like Flagler Beach are going to have to decide how hard they plan to hold on to the beaches that give them their identity.