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Weeks Marine’s Flagler Beach Project Adjusted, Now Will Only Take 4 Months, Not 9

Get used to the sight, the noise, the vibrations and the disturbances as the Army Corps of Engineering contractor begins work on rebuilding 3.4 miles of beach in Flagler Beach. But the result will be an unrecognizably expanded beach. (Army Corps of Engineers)

Posted on June 14, 2024

Change of plan.

In a boon for a city besieged by construction, the contractor starting work on Flagler County’s first-ever beach-renourishment project within days informed Flagler Beach officials that the dredging will start at the south end of town and move north, rather than the other way around as initially planned. It will not use Veterans Park as an equipment staging area. And it will not require traffic detours downtown, as had been previously planned. And it’ll all be done in four months, not nine.

Weeks Marine, the New Jersey-based contractor, won the $27 million contract on May 2.  Weeks Marine and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers–whose project this is–outlined the significantly reconfigured plan at a pre-construction meeting at Flagler Beach City Hall on June 6, with city staffers, two city commissioners–Rick Belhumeur and Jane Mealy–members of the Turtle Patrol and Ansley Wren-Key, the county’s coastal engineering administrator, among those in attendance.

“Didn’t get any arguments from us,” Belhumeur said, “not having to use Veterans Park, not having two months’ worth of detours at the corner of Moody and A1A. That’s the big change that nobody seems to know about at this point in time.”

Gavin Jackson, the administrative contracting officer, Matt Andrews, the project engineer, and others discussed most aspects of the project, from dredging to leveling to sea turtle protection to bird protection to indigo snake protection (even that) to turbidity and vibration monitoring, right-whale alerts and a lot more.

“They really left me very comfortable,” Mealy said. “It seemed like they’d thought of everything. they’ve done this before many times. It’s new to us.” Mealy was especially heartened by the plan to spare Veterans Park or downtown most of the construction-equipment disruptions. “I was thrilled with that,” Mealy said. “I really didn’t like them messing up the whole middle of the town more than it already is with everything else that’s going on.”

The project window is 320 days, including mobilization and demobilization of equipment and cleanup afterward, with a $3,526 fine a day for each day past that window if the contractor doesn’t finish on time. The project is not expected to go anywhere near that. Weeks Marine is projecting about four months, not the July-to-March stretch the Army Corps had projected as recently as last month. “Demobilization will be absolutely done by the end of October,” Belhumeur said, “but they expect they’ll be done with all their heavy equipment off the beach by the end of September.”

The contractor will be working 24 hours a day. It will be noisy for residents and businesses along A1A. Some of the people in attendance at the pre-construction meeting, including a local restaurant owner, were concerned about the noise affecting their business. But it’ll be noisy in specific spots  only for brief stretches. Weeks Marine will be rebuilding the beach in 1,500-ft. segments, each segment taking about two days, starting from the south, near the foot of the water tower, and heading north.

The contractor is required to operate seismographs in each location being worked and apply measures to reduce vibration. But that’s designed to protect structures that are susceptible to vibration–that would come in play near such places as the Turtle Shack, for example–as opposed to people.

While each 1,500-foot segment is being worked on, that segment will be closed to the public, and the area around it will be noisy with the clang, vibrations and that infernal beep-beep of bulldozers. As each segment is completed, it will re-open to public use, turtles, crabs and pill bugs included.

The initial plan to use Veterans Park for staging equipment would have meant traffic detours as equipment shuttled to the beach. That will no longer be the case. There may be brief, occasional traffic stoppages when a heavy piece of equipment crosses A1A, but those will be measured in minutes, not longer.

The contractor is required to follow strict guidelines for environmental protection–at least on paper, and in the handling of equipment in the field. To what extent actual wildlife will be disturbed damaged or decimated will not be entirely known beyond the mitigation efforts in place, which are designed to minimize–not eliminate–the disturbances and decimation: it is all but impossible to dredge 1.6 million cubic yards of sand from one place and dump it along another without causing some harm to wildlife. But dredges will be respecting such things as speed restrictions–at least when right whale alerts are indicated (it won’t be right whale season, however.)

Dredging areas will be equipped with “turtle deflectors.” If the dredging provokes what’s referred to in the pre-construction documentation as “a potential take of an E&T species,” meaning a federally endangered and threatened specie, animal or plant, workers are required immediately to cease dredging operations, notify the Corps of Engineers, include photographs taken within four hours of the incident, and complete an incident report.

“If a live turtle is taken,” the documents indicate, coordination with Florida Fish and Wildlife is required to determine the “appropriate facility to receive live marine turtles for rehabilitation.” That such measures are included amid the contractor’s contingencies indicates that situations like that occur.

Weeks Marine’s barges will dredge 1.6 million cubic yards of sand from a borrow pit some 10 to 11 miles offshore and rebuild 3.4 miles of beach from North 6th Street in Flagler Beach to the northern edge of Gamble Rogers State Recreation Area. Neither Flagler Beach nor county government have authority over the contractor, who will be following the orders of the Corps of Engineers.

The end result will be an unrecognizable beach–unrecognizable at least to those who weren’t around between the Eisenhower and Nixon years, when the shore still extended seaward several hundred feet. The beach has been eroding since, critically so over the last quarter century, and catastrophically so since Hurricane Matthew, which began the obliteration of the dune system that Hurricane Irma completed.

The county rebuilt the dunes twice since, with sacrificial sand designed to withstand a few storms but eventually wash off. The beach renourishment is a different plan with a different goal. It will not merely rebuild bigger, wider dunes, but the dunes will be the foundation of a sloping, wider beach that will literally reclaim ground previously lost to the sea. It is a new concept in Flagler County.

It is not a new concept elsewhere along the Eastern seaboard, where the Army Corps and local governments have been conducting such renourishment for decades, starting on Coney Island in New York a century ago.

But it is not a fail-safe concept. Like dune-rebuilding, beach renourishment erodes, at times catastrophically so, as has been the case in north Florida, as was the case on Long Island last year, washing away a considerable part of what had been a $1.7 billion renourishment and rebuilding plan after Hurricane Sandy. (An irony: the amount of sand that will be dredged and dumped on Flagler County’s shore in the Army Corps project is identical to the amount of sand Coney Island lost after Hurricane Sandy. Reconstruction entailed bridging back 3.5 million cubic feet of sand.)

But that’s part of the cycle, as Jason Harrah, the project manager of the Flagler County project since its conception more than 20 years ago, has said. Residents must be ready for it–just as the Army Corps will be ready to address the erosion. The Flagler County plan calls for renourishments in 11-year cycles. Half that cost would have to be borne by Flagler County. The federal government assumes the other half as long as Flagler County remains committed to what currently amounts to a 50-year contract. It is likely that the renourishments will take place at shorter intervals. That’s one of the reasons the county is eager to have a well-financed beach-management plan in place.

Construction of the future Margaritaville Hotel continues on the parcel just west of Veterans Park. The State Department of Transportation’s contractor is building a secant seawall at the south end of the county, straddling the county line with Volusia.

The project includes 2.6 miles of what will be considered a federalized beach–from south 6th Street to south 28th Street–plus two segments at each end that are being paid for by the county with state dollars, as part of the county’s plan to extend the renourishment along much of the length of the county’s 18 miles of shore, pending the enactment of a beach management plan still in contention.

A groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Monday, ironically at Veterans Park in downtown Flagler Beach, which would have been overrun with equipment had the earlier plan carried.

When it’s all done, Flagler Beach has another massive, historic project to look forward to, with noise, construction equipment, vibrations and disturbances of its own: the pier deconstruction and reconstruction begins in November.


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