For months, supporters of the Save Ponte Vedra Beach initiative have been petitioning St. Johns County for financial assistance toward their mission of local beach restoration. Last Tuesday, July 17 at a meeting of the Board of County Commissioners, their wish was officially granted.
With a 3-2 majority vote, the commissioners approved up to $200,000 in immediate funding for the project, which will allow the county’s preferred engineering firm — Taylor Engineering — to begin the necessary preliminary work.
“We are thrilled that the county will be hiring a coastal engineer to restore the beach and that they are putting in some initial funding for it,” said Lori Moffett, spokesperson for Save Ponte Vedra Beach Inc. “It took a massive effort on the part of hundreds of people in St. Johns County that love Mickler’s Beach and all points north and south. The county’s largest public beach in terms of public access and parking spots is in desperate need of investment, and the people of St. Johns County have strongly voiced their support for it.”
The motion was backed by Commission Chair Henry Dean, who expressed confidence that the funding, which will be drawn from the county's Beach Renourishment Reserves, would eventually be repaid.
“It appears to me there is an overwhelming majority of homeowners in this specific Ponte Vedra Beach area that will vote in favor of an MSTU,” Dean said. “So, I am fully confident in my own mind that this $200,000 will be repaid from the first year’s funds of that MSTU.”
Although Commissioners Jeb Smith and Jimmy Johns were skeptical regarding costs and feasibility, Commissioners Paul Waldron and Jay Morris also voted to approve the initial funding for the project, which the county estimates will ultimately cost about $634,000.
“Ponte Vedra is as important to St. Johns County as South Ponte Vedra and Vilano Beach,” Morris noted, adding, “Of everybody I’ve talked to in Ponte Vedra, I haven’t had one person indicate they were not for some type of MSTU, so that money, in my opinion, will get paid back.”
While residents in North Ponte Vedra Beach are still awaiting the county’s decision regarding the creation of a special assessment to pay for local beach renourishment, the commissioners signed off on a municipal service taxing unit for a one-time dune restoration project in South Ponte Vedra Beach and Vilano Beach last December. Another agenda item of last week’s meeting, the board voted not only to continue that assessment, but to combine the overall project with a federal beach restoration project — which will be conducted in that area by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — and reduce the tentative millage rate from 8.25 to 4 mills.
“Combining the two projects, constructability-wise and financially, makes the most sense, if there’s an ability to do that,” said Jason Harrah, project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Jacksonville District. “It’s sometimes $5 to $7 million just to get that dredge to the site, so instead of you doing a project and having to pay to mobilize a dredge, and us doing a project and having to mobilize a dredge, it makes perfect sense for us to try to combine those and pay that fee once.”
In a 4-1 vote, the board ultimately decided to move forward with that plan, with the commission chair leaving no doubt as to his position on the issue of beach restoration in St. Johns County.
“I, as one commissioner, can tell you that what I am irrevocably committed to is fixing our north beaches, from Vilano up to J. Turner Butler,” Dean said. “And as long as that takes, I think that we, as a commission, are going to continue to work with the local community and the state and local governments to get that done.”