Posted on December 15, 2022
When the state Department of Environmental Protections made $20 million in beach-protecting emergency sand available to coastal counties, a DEP official asked Flagler County Engineer Faith al-Khatib how much she wanted from that.
“When they called me and asked me, ‘How much money you need?’ I said I needed $20 million,” said al-Khatib, who has single-handedly secured tens of millions of state and federal dollars for beach protection in Flagler since Hurricane Matthew.
“But I don’t want to be greedy. At this time, we got $5 million,” she told the County Commission Monday. “They promise if any other counties decline to get some of that funding, they will bring it to Flagler County. And the great news about this is, there is no local match.”
That had been al-Khatib one ask of Gov. Ron DeSantis when he visited Flagler during a campaign swing in the aftermath of Ian: she pleaded for the elimination of local matches to state grant funding, which could be prohibitive.
The money will be used for protection just against “ongoing high tides and some storm events,” al-Khatib says. “We’re not talking about major storm events.” That’s an indication of how severely eroded Flagler’s 18 miles of shoreline are: in previous years, there was no need for emergency sands. The dunes were broad enough to afford protection against high tides and the year’s usual storms. Those dunes are now entirely gone but for bare, low-lying mounds that in many places could not stop waves paired with particularly strong high tides, let alone waves generated by strong storms.
There are no engineering guidelines yet on where the sands will go. That has to be devised. But at $63 to $70 per cubic yard, the $5 million won’t take protection very far. Even if the county could get 75,000 cubic yards out of that, there are 95,000 feet to cover along the shoreline. To build the slimmest dune of 6 cubic yards per feet–bare protection certain to wash away before long–the $5 million worth of sand would allow for new dunes on just 15 percent of the county’s shoreline at most.
Al-Khatib specified that she expects the sand will be spread at 6 cubic yard per foot over 2 miles.
For comparison’s sake: when the federal government rebuilds dunes through the Corps of Engineers, its standard is 17.5 cubic yards per foot. The typical dump truck carries 10 to 14 cubic yards of sand.
There is additional money coming through FEMA reimbursements for Hurricanes Matthew and Dorian, totaling another $5 million. That will enable the county to stretch its dune-reconstruction efforts. But with federal dollars come federal standards. So federally-funded dunes are much larger, but can only go a much shorter distance.
Flagler Beach is not expected to get any of that emergency sand. City Manager William Whitson asked the county whether it would get a share of the $5 million. Al-Khatib told him his city had “unlimited resources from FDOT,” as seemed to be the case even during Hurricane Nicole, when the state transportation department mobilized two contractors to immediately get to work repairing parts of State Road A1A that the storm had carved out, south of the pier. The job was done in four days. (FlaglerLive requested the details of those contracts from FDOT in the aftermath of the storm. DOT has yet to fulfill that request.)
“There is much more needs north of the City of Flagler Beach,” she told the city manager. The city is also awaiting a U.S. Army Corps of Engineer project to begin in June, spreading substantial new dunes, with sand dredged offshore, on 2.6 miles of beach south of the pier–the most vulnerable area of the city’s beaches, though the north end of the city has also now been critically eroded.
Al-Khatib and her staff completed a comprehensive analysis of the county’s overall needs for beach reconstruction. The bottom line: it would require 4 million cubic yards and cost $200 million.
The state is not handing a $5 million check to the county. It requires Flagler County to front the money. The county will draw the money from its reserves. County Administrator Heidi petito said that fund currently has $18 million. Once the money is spent, the state will reimburse it. “We guarantee you, if we follow all the guidelines within that agreement between us and DEP, we’ll get every penny back.”
Still, it may create a cash-flow challenge for the county. The technicalities are as follows: the county will take $5 million from its reserves and dump it in the tourist development’s beach-management account. The county will then draw the money from that account, before DEP reimburses.
The Department of Environmental protection’s $5 million has nothing to do with the millions of dollars going into rebuilding A1A with sand and rocks south and north of the pier. That’s all additional spending, and it’s not being channeled through the county.
County Commissioner Andy Dance was a touch skeptical about the plan, if it was just sand-dumping without some form of vegetation planting to go along with it. Vegetation reinforces dunes and lengthens their lifespan. The county in the aftermath of Matthew and Irma dumped nearly $20 million worth of sand on 11 miles of beach. That sand was gone even before Ian struck. It had lasted less than three years.
“We have to come up with guidelines to be fair and consistent to tell our resident why I came here in this area and done emergency sand,” al-Khatib said. The reason: homeowners are seeing their homes teeter on beach cliffs in some areas north of Flagler Beach, and having to pay for sand themselves, at rates of $30,000 to $100,000 per property. So they’re asking: why should they pay out of their own pocket when the county has sand to dump?
The county has to identify where to dump sands paid for both from DEP and FEMA. “We’re not going to be taking those funds and go and and go and restore empty lots or golf course. We’re trying to protect our infrastructure,” al-Khatib said.