The Army Corp of Engineers is considering a beach renourishment project for a small portion St. Johns County’s 42-mile shoreline. The tentatively selected plan includes beach and dune nourishment within the Vilano Beach reach and a small portion of the South Ponte Vedra Beach area. The project area approximately covers from the southern end of the Serenata Beach Club to San Pelayo Court.
A study team consisting of federal, state and local agency officials assessed the feasibility of providing federal coastal storm risk management measures to portions of St. Johns County’s shoreline. This particular study has taken about two years and is still ongoing. Many other St. Johns County coastal studies have been conducted since 1965 by the Corps, the county and the state, according to Susan Jackson of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District.
Nearly 10 miles of beach – including 3.8 miles in the South Ponte Vedra area, 3.7 miles in Vilano Bach and 2.3 miles in Summer Haven – were included in the study area. During the study process, the team screened out the Summer Haven are because St. Johns County is already conducting managed retreat there. Most of the South Ponte Vedra area was also screened out due to its lack of public parking and access, which is a requirement for federal beach projects.
Alternatives considered in the study include no action, non-structural measures such as flood proofing, relocation or land acquisition, shore protection with hard structures such as seawalls, shore protection with soft structures such as beach nourishment, or a combination of measures, according to the Corps.
An open comment period took place from Feb. 18 through April 4. The report is expected to be complete in the fall of 2017, after which it will be presented to the Civil Works Review Board in January 2017.
According to the Corps, the total cost is estimated at $66 million over the 50-year life of the project. That number is based on 2016 fiscal year price levels. The project would include initial construction and renourishments at about 12-year intervals. The initial construction of the project would be costlier than the later renourishments, officials said, placing about 1.3 million cubic yards of material. The periodic nourishments would use roughly 866,000 cubic yards each.
Shoreline erosion severely threatens State Road A1A, the only north-south hurricane evacuation route for communities along the coastline, the Corps point out. Besides the threat to infrastructure, shoreline erosion can have an impact on tourism, homes and businesses, recreation and wildlife habitat.
The erosion has been an ongoing concern for many St. Johns County homeowners with residences located on A1A. In March 2014, coastal erosion became a serious concern after a series of nor’easters hit the area, taking some of the coastline with them. About 10 homes located on South Ponte Vedra Boulevard were impacted at the time, as the erosion created a 15- to 20-foot drop-off within 20 feet of the residences.
The St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved an emergency proclamation declaring a local state of emergency regarding the rapid beach erosion affecting the area of South Ponte Vedra Beach and Summer Haven during an emergency meeting in March 2014 and again a month later after the original proclamation expired. The commissioners unanimously approved an emergency proclamation in order to allow homeowners in the impacted areas to expedite the process of applying for permits through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in order to construct a temporary wall in the hopes of preventing further erosion before permanent bulkheads could be put into place. Construction is privately contracted and funded by the homeowners – not the county.