Plan solidifying for local match for state sand project along beaches in South Ponte Vedra, Vilano

St. Johns County commissioners on Tuesday took steps toward the creation of a Municipal Service Taxing Unit to get sand back on decimated beaches from South Ponte Vedra down to Vilano.

 

Officials said the move toward putting a local share funding mechanism in place will help the county secure $10 million in funding from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for a one-time sand placement project. Following Hurricane Matthew, Gov. Rick Scott and the state legislature appropriated grant funds for such projects in areas designated “critically eroded” by the FDEP.

The proposed project area eligible for the funding extends from around 2345 S. Ponte Vedra Blvd. to 3244 Coastal Highway, which is about 50,000 feet or 9.5 miles of beach. An estimated 500,000 cubic yards of sand was lost along that stretch due to Matthew. Several homes have been deemed uninhabitable.

State and local sources are expected to split the cost of the roughly $20 million project 50-50. Creation of an MSTU would allow the county to recoup the costs of a sand placement project from the benefited community, east and west of A1A, over time.

According to “hypothetical assessments” provided by the county, property owners east of A1A would receive 86 percent of the benefit from the sand placement. This assessment would include 566 tax parcels with a collective taxable value of about $283.5 million, after exemptions. A proposed millage of 8.26 would garner $4,132 a year over five years, assuming a home value of $500,000.

The analysis says property owners west of A1A would receive 14 percent of the benefit from the sand placement. This assessment would include 1,905 tax parcels with a collective taxable value of about $458 million, after exemptions. A proposed millage of 0.82 would garner $246 a year over five years, assuming a home value of $300,000.

Damon Douglas, project manager for the county, said flexibility with the project size and time of repayment is going to be built into the plan, depending on such factors as demand from the community or the costs/scopes of work of bids received by the county.

He also said depending on survey results, the assessment could ultimately be limited to the east side of A1A, which could result in a smaller project size or a longer period of repayment.

Neal Shinkre, public works director for the county, said there is a $13.3 million pot of state money specifically for St. Johns County and Flagler County but that it’s yet to be determined how those funds will be split. He said some monies that other counties have not claimed may also be made available to either St. Johns or Flagler, increasing the potential funding to around $17 million.

He clarified that the FDEP project is separate from the county’s $70 million request to the Federal Emergency Management Agency regarding sand placement, which covers all the county’s affected coastline. He also said FEMA will not cover what the state provides, meaning the $20 million and the specific stretch of beach would be withdrawn from the county’s total ask to the federal government — in the event the project comes to fruition.

A preliminary county survey has indicated “general support” within the affected community for an assessment-funded project.

During public comment on Tuesday, many residents of South Ponte Vedra Beach and Vilano Beach who have come before the board over the past year reiterated their support for forging ahead. Oceanfront homeowners said they would not be the sole beneficiaries of the work, pointing to public access to the beaches as well as the protection of A1A.

Linda Chambless with the South Ponte Vedra-Vilano Beach Preservation Association said the dunes worked. She acknowledged they’re gone but said they spared homes, roads and infrastructure.

Commission Chair Jimmy Johns said he wants to be sure people in the affected area, who will be subject to the assessments, understand what they’re signing up for. He said it seemed like a “no-brainer” as long as the majority of the community was for it.

Tuesday’s approvals are far from the last step in the process.

According to a timeline provided in Shinkre’s presentation, the county will secure FDEP funding and initiate community meetings and send mailings to affected residents by the end of the month. In December, it will hold two hearings on establishing an MSTU ordinance, on Dec. 5 and Dec. 19.

Between January and March, a survey of affected property owners will be conducted, with results expected to be presented to the commission by March or April. At that point, pending board approval to continue the project, the county will go to work collecting easements.

Design and permitting would be expected by April. Project bid and construction would take place between November 2018 and August 2019.

It is expected the project will provide an average of 10 cubic yards of sand per linear foot along the affected stretch of beach.

 

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