Closure of Mickler’s Beach raises controversy among residents

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Mickler’s Beach closed suddenly on Monday, Nov. 4, with many families and residents blindsided by the occurrence, causing them to be turned away at the entrance.

A sign posted outside the gate of the parking lot read that the park will be closed Monday through Friday for renourishment operations, offering “alternative beach access” at Jacksonville Beach and Guana Park.

The “renourishment operation” is a project the County Commission voted to approve Oct. 1 that allowed a construction project, contracted by Hayward Construction Group, to use Mickler’s Landing as a staging area and storage of sand and heavy equipment necessary to complete a dune restoration. The restoration is paid for and benefits 13 beachfront homeowners along the area who were affected by beach erosion caused by past hurricanes.

A recent County Commission hearing on Nov. 5, revisited the project’s outlines, voting 5-0 to review the current agreement to identify a means to provide additional public access.

Commissioner Jeb Smith of District 2 noted that the original presentation to the board was not clear that the beach would be closed completely. Additionally, he said the operational agreement outlined a significantly shorter timeline of completion.

“(The operational agreement) was altered in a way that I am not favorable to,” Smith said. “I have some very angry people calling me but also it angers me to see the negotiation was not 45-60 calendar days as I anticipated. I am very disappointed.”

Commissioner Jeremiah Blocker echoed Smith’s sentiments, adding that he was very concerned to see that no significant public notice was in place to allow for residents to be aware of the closure prior to it occurring.

“We need to get back in the business of letting the public know,” Blocker said. “We need to engage them and give them the opportunity to come to these meetings and tell us what their concerns are.”

During public comment, residents spoke about their discontent with the closure and the allowance for private property owners to influence public beach access.

“Yesterday morning I stood at the entrance and watched a stream of cars being turned away while 13 homeowners have two perfectly good lots for ocean that they can use for access,” said Ponte Vedra Beach resident, Nicole Crosby. “Many such properties were used when sand was trucked in from Matthew and Irma and Mickler Beach was not closed for that purpose that’s my understanding.”

While the county staff is currently looking into solutions for access, County Administrator Michael Wanchick said safety is their number one priority.

“I am not going to open up that access point until we feel that it is safe,” he said, adding, “We will move as quickly as we can.”

On Monday, Nov. 11, protesters met at Mickler’s demonstrating their opposition against any public closure to the beach. Additionally, the group says the geotubes used to anchor sand to the beach also disrupt sea turtle nests. According to a Facebook post from Save Guana Now, the local environmental group involved with the protests, Jim Furyk, pro golfer and one of the beachfront residents attempting to renourish his property was endorsing a revision to the plan to allow for full access.

Starting Nov. 15, the park and parking lot will now be open to the public Monday - Friday, 11:00 a.m. to sunset. Saturday and Sundayit will be open to the public sunrise to sunset. For updates on Mickler’s Beach access, follow the St. Johns County Facebook page, St. Johns County Government Connection or visit their website www.sjcfl.us.

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