Posted on January 16, 2023
Two decades on, the eternally-delayed plan to rebuild the dunes on 2.6 miles of beach south of the Flagler Beach pier has been delayed yet again, and will not get under way in June or any time this year, as Flagler County government and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had projected.
The delay this time is not due to the lone hold-out who is refusing to sign easements that would allow dune construction on two of her parcels. Not directly, anyway. Rather, the entire dune-rebuilding project must be redesigned and the volume of sand needed for it recalculated, County Attorney Al Hadeed told the Flagler Beach City Commission Thursday evening.
That means the dune-renourishment project slated to begin in June, and to be completed by fall, will not happen, again leaving the shore–and State Road A1A–vulnerable to the next hurricane season. So many agencies are involved in the process that it’s not even clear anymore when the project could be done. It also means that costs will increase substantially.
It is the latest dispiriting revelation about the dunes project in a long list of dispiriting developments that have kept the project from construction, leaving what had already been a critically eroded stretch of beach to erode further. State Road A1A was again shredded by Hurricane Nicole last fall, just six years after it had been demolished by Hurricane Matthew. The demolition this time would very likely not have happened had the dunes been rebuilt, county officials said in the wake of Nicole’s destruction.
So while Hadeed on Thursday evening did not directly attribute the latest delay to the hold-out, the last three years’ delays, awaiting those easements, have unquestionably played a major role in the Corps’ decision to scrap its design and start over.
The redesign is necessary because the original design of the project, federally funded since 2018, is out of date. Hurricanes and storms have continued to carve out the shore, and with such severity, that the amount of sand originally needed for the entire 50-year span of the project will now be needed just for the first phase of the renourishment. The Corps is looking to rebuild dunes and expand the breadth of the beach, which will look wider if and when the project is completed.
“We learned from an intergovernmental conference call this week that the Corps has determined it is necessary to redesign the project, essentially making it even more substantial than previously explained,” Hadeed told the commission in a statement read by attorney Scott Spradley, who is working with the county on the easement issue. (Hadeed, who has been ill, spoke to commissioners by phone during the meeting.) “When the project was originally put together, the Army Corps calculated the amount of sand we would need for the full 50-year period of renourishment cycles. That includes not just the initial renourishment work, but also the periodic re-nourishments every 10 or 11 years, plus a certain estimated volume for repairs after storms. The entire 50-year volume will be needed now, just to do the initial renourishment.”
The agencies involved in the project estimated that it would take approximately six months to complete a redesign, including procuring all permits and authorizations for such work. “This obviously will substantially delay when the project can start,” Hadeed said. But the redesign will require new surveys on the extent of erosion since 2016, both onshore and below the sea surface. It would take 11 months, by his calculation, to complete a survey of the shore, the redesign, the bidding and mobilization for work.
The county and the federal government had planned to renourish the beach with sand from a borrow pit 11 miles offshore. Now they will have to secure a larger area of that borrow pit to provide the necessary sand volume, again requiring a new round of permitting–just months after doing exactly that. But erosion is occurring at such a pace that permitting isn’t keeping pace. Hadeed said there are no concerns that the borrow pit would prove insufficient for current and further dredging.
“This activity will require a new lease with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management of the U.S. Department of the Interior,” Hadeed said. “Because the project will be more substantial, a supplemental environmental assessment will also be required.”
When the county approved the project in 2019, its cost was $100 million over 50 years, with the first phase totaling $17.5 million. The federal government was paying $11.4 million of it, the county was responsible for the rest. The county secured state funds to cover that cost. All those costs are now out of date, too. The Corps hasn’t issued new cost estimates. (See: “Flagler About To Sign 50-Year, $100 Million Deal to Rebuild 2.6 Miles of Dunes in Flagler Beach. It Has Only a Fraction of the Money.”)
The latest delay relieves some pressure from the county to secure the two easements from Cynthia d’Angiolini, the property owner who has been refusing to sign them. But again, while the county has been threatening eminent domain proceedings against d’Angiolini for well over two years, Hadeed said that’s not the direction the county will take.
“Rather than utilizing the eminent domain process with its complexities, added costs and time requirements for the remaining remnants, we believe that if our final voluntary acquisition efforts are not successful, we should be able to acquire the remnants through the bankruptcy proceedings.”
The county is still in the process of procuring the two easements for the two remnants belonging to Cynthia d’Angiolini.
D’Angiolini has been in Chapter 13 bankruptcy for the past three years. The county discovered that she never disclosed to the court that she owned the two parcels for which the county wants signed easements. That deception has put the discharge of d’Angiolini’s bankruptcy in jeopardy. The county, with Spradley handling that aspect of the case, has been pressuring d’Angiolini to sign in exchange for a resolution of the bankruptcy case. Alternately, the county is pressing the bankruptcy court to convert the Chapter 13 bankruptcy to Chapter 7, enabling a receiver to take over d’Angiolini’s dune remnants, which would then facilitate the county’s acquisition of those easements. A hearing is scheduled for Jan. 31 in Orlando.
Hadeed on Friday clarified by email: that while the county started the eminent domain process last April or May, “Those negotiations were suspended, however, when we learned that the owner of the two remnants did not have authority to sell her land interests due to the bankruptcy case. The authority for disposition of those real estate interests now rests with the bankruptcy court.”
“We will continue to pursue all aspects of the project with great vigor,” Hadeed told commissioners on Thursday, “and just as we have for the countless owners who have signed easements voluntarily, we will accord them all respect for their positions as property owners, but not to elevate an owner who has no reason to resist being a part of the project and putting the entire community at continued risk of harm.”
City Commissioner Eric Cooley was concerned about the city potentially losing the project entirely. Hadeed said that’s not a possibility.
In fact, the Corps has threatened to pull its funding already, more than once, as the county failed to secure all necessary easements. And it may rethink the project altogether if the Florida Department of Transportation decides to build a sea wall along that portion of A1A.
“We have to be careful of the federal rules involved here,” City Manager William Whitson said, “because the whole reason for the beach renourishment project and justification in the federal rules is protection of A1A, and there have been some sentiments saying that if you put sea walls up then you don’t need the sand, and the federal government would pull out. So you’ve got to be careful in how we structure this discussion.”