Posted on August 28, 2023
After nearly 20 years of fighting to get the necessary permits, Bill Roe has succeeded in building a seawall on his oceanfront property in New Smyrna Beach.
“Every time I would go to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection,” Mr. Roe said, “I asked them a simple question. What was the game plan to protect our beaches? And I warned them, sooner or later, a storm’s coming. Sure enough, it hit.”
“If the storm had been around a little bit longer,” Mr. Roe said. “I would’ve lost my house. I lost my yard, my deck, my steps.”
He lost 40 feet from shore to dune line, 26 of those feet in the space of two weeks. At time of construction, the distance from his backdoor step to the waterline was 18 feet.
The emergency orders issued last year opened the door for Mr. Roe to construct his seawall. In order for a seawall to be built, a structure needed to be considered both eligible and vulnerable.
The eligibility requirements were temporarily relaxed in December.
Mr. Roe considers this a long-overdue step toward protecting private property, but the peace of mind does not come cheap. “It’s going to cost me $300,000 to build a seawall,” he said, noting that amount does not account for other associated costs, repairs to his property, or potentially building the seawall higher if future permits allow. He is paying for the seawall entirely out of pocket.
He hopes his seawall is a model for other residents of Volusia County.
“When you build something, you’ve got to build it with the thought in mind of protecting the environment,” Mr. Roe said. He believes seawalls are an important step toward that goal, and that the seawalls in Daytona are a great example of what could be done to protect both property and the environment.
The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, however, issued a report exploring seawalls as a solution to rising water levels and storms. In their view, seawalls are inferior to green buffers, such as mangroves and other coastal plants, which retain sand and absorb punishment from the weather.
Florida’s program requires some of these green buffers be combined with seawalls, such as sand replenishment and planting beach-compatible plants both before and behind the structure.
“Beaches are one of the best assets that Volusia County has got going for it,” Mr. Roe said. “We’re not doing anything to protect it.”