Mixed reception to proposed assessment for dune renourishment along north beaches

St. Johns County commissioners on Tuesday reached consensus to continue on the path toward establishing a special assessment for a dune and berm renourishment project in South Ponte Vedra and Vilano, with no shortage of input from area residents.

 

Funding from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is available but requires a local match. State and local sources are expected to evenly split the cost of a roughly $20 million project.

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

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 Hurricane Matthew. Several homes have been deemed uninhabitable.

The county has been weighing an ordinance that would create two Municipal Service Taxing Units to fund the local share. On Tuesday, that plan evolved to a three-MSTU scenario.

Properties west of A1A would still constitute the least-impacted group and take on the lowest share of the cost. Properties east of A1A would be broken down into two categories: those also east of FDEP’s Coastal Construction Control Line, at the highest risk and taking on the highest share of the cost, and those west of the line, at a lesser risk and taking on less of the cost.

Damon Douglas, project manager for disaster recovery, said some recurring themes came up over the course of three recent community meetings. Some property owners not as severely impacted have asked why they’re included. Others questioned why the county was considering an MSTU, which places a higher burden on more expensive properties regardless of the benefit, or lack thereof, they would receive.

Still, Douglas said there were not many people who said, “Don’t do anything.” He said he’s heard a lot of creative and intelligent ideas but the bottom line is this is an actionable project.

“We are limited in our options when it comes to this funding,” he said.

Douglas also said Tuesday’s decision does not commit the county to levy any millage but simply continues the project timeline.

The deadline to secure the $10 million from FDEP is Jan. 31. Florida statutes governing MSTU creation require action before Jan. 1.

More than a dozen property owners spoke during public comment.

Margaret Bald, of South Ponte Vedra, said most of the oceanfront properties in 2300, 2400 and 2500 blocks of A1A have not seen the severe erosion properties to the south, closer to the water, have. She said the area in which she lives is protected by natural, vegetative dunes.

“We do not have a crisis,” she told commissioners, adding the homes and foundations have never been touched by the ocean.

“Unlike our neighbors to the south, they did not have to be built on top of the dunes,” Bald said. “We have beautiful natural sand; it doesn’t need to be trucked in.”

Irene Kaufmann, in the 2500 block, concurred with Bald’s assessment and said she was of the opinion the northern area should be excluded from the sand project. She said she understands many properties are in need but that she didn’t know why her stretch of beach was designated by FDEP as critically eroded.

She said her dunes have been built up naturally, and she encouraged the county to consider projects that keep the beach as natural as possible.

Joe Honeycutt, of South Ponte Vedra, said criticism over how quickly the dunes could be washed out is irrelevant. He said dunes are not designed to last but to save what’s behind them.

Joe Bateman, of North Serenata Drive, said the county has looked at ways to make the assessment more palatable.

Linda Chambless, with the South Ponte Vedra-Vilano Beach Preservation Association, said there are various government deadlines to be met and, therefore, approved of the county moving forward with the assessment before all the ducks are in a row. She said the 50-50 share with the state on a $20 million project is something they may never see again.

Commission Chair Henry Dean said the county is trying to thread a needle in the dark and trying to find a solution that will be fair to all the property owners.

“This is a very tough issue to try to move ahead with a consensus,” he said, adding he still has reservations.

Dean said he was far from a made-up mind.

Commissioner Jeb Smith said the decision to move forward is only to make sure the county meets FDEP’s deadline, should the community want to proceed. Acknowledging the comments from residents north of the severely impacted stretches of beach, he requested staff provide information on what it would look like to exclude those properties.

There will be a second and final hearing to establish the MSTUs at the board’s Dec. 19 meeting.

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 could take place between November 2018 and August 2019.

 

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