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Volusia County officials discuss how to address coastal damage

Posted on November 16, 2022

County officials called the destruction from Hurricane Nicole “unprecedented” during an update to the Volusia County Council on Tuesday, Nov. 15.

“Seems like we’ve been using that word a lot,” Community Information Director Kevin Captain said. “It’s certainly devastating, and it’s definitely wrecked our beach profile.”

Since the storm, officials have continuously urged residents to stay off the beach due to unsafe coastal structures and significant debris on the shore. Structures that sustained damage during Hurricane Ian were compromised further, or entirely, by Nicole.

Public Works Director Ben Bartlett said that the county has assessed about $30 million in damage to its coastal assets from both storms. Beach ramps that had minor damage during Ian, and the county thought could be repaired fairly quickly, are now “total losses,” he added.

“We’re working with beach safety on getting some of these access points up so that we can get folks on the beach in safe areas, where there’s no debris or limited debris, and making sure that when in fact we do open those areas up, it’s dafe for people to return,” Bartlett said. “People do want to go to the beach, we understand that, and we’re working very hard to make that happen.”

County staff were able to contact Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office, as the governor was in the area in the weekend. County Manager George Recktenwald said staff were able to showcase the county’s damage, and that it was a “fruitful” exchange. Recktenwald wrote a letter to the governor’s office thanking him for coming out, and asking them for additional aid measures and clarifications. The council voted 5-0 to approve sending the letter to the governor; Councilwoman Heather Post was absent and former Councilman Fred Lowry’s last meeting was Nov. 1.

Deputy County Suzanne Konchan said the Florida Department of Environmental Management is looking to deploy temporary measures, as permitted by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, for repairs to the beach. Tiger dams and large sandbag placements were brought up to help with the compromised seawalls.

The governor has directed DEP to provide $20 million for emergency sand placements to address dune and beach erosion in the state. Volusia is hoping to get a significant share of that aid.

County Manager George Recktenwald said he wrote a letter to the governor’s office asking for more emergency measures and clarifications for coastal and seawall repairs.

County Council Chair Jeff Brower asked if it would be possible to get a permit from the Army Corps of Engineer to dredge sand, and Konchan said the county is hopeful that Congress will pass a supplemental bill for Hurricane Ian where Volusia’s project would be considered outside the normal process for approving Army Corps projects.

“That is really the only way to get federal involvement in sand nourishment, but it is undoubtably the very best way for the county to receive sand nourishment, because with the Army Corps projects, should future storms take the sand back into the ocean, they would come in and replace them at their cost,” Konchan said.

The only other federal way of getting sand placement is through FEMA, however the sand can’t be placed anywhere that is repeatedly impacted by high tides or at the base of a seawall or dune, as the amount of sand is much less than what the Army Corps are able to place.

The letter to the governor is a start to addressing the issues on the beach, Recktenwald said. Speed is also something to consider, he added, and the county may opt to decide to repair some of the ramps and coastal structures itself.

“We can wait for FEMA, which we’re still waiting on the other [storm], and not have a beach season,” he said. “So we may have to make some decisions and say, ‘We may not get reimbursed, but we’re going to open this ramp and that ramp and we’re not going to wait for FEMA.”


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