After a significant delay, the Mickler’s Landing Beach parking lot, walkover and all related facilities are now closed due to the site being utilized as a staging area for a voluntary dune restoration project.
Initiated by a group of concerned Ponte Vedra Beach residents following the wrath of Hurricane Matthew in October, the project is a partnership between beachfront homeowners and St. Johns County that is intended to expedite the dune restoration process for these select residents. The county contracted and granted permission to A.J. Johns Inc., a Jacksonville-based construction company, in November to use the parking lot and transport truckloads of sand from there to the residents’ homes.
As a result, the project was originally planned to start in late November, and finish by the end of 2016. However, back and forth discrepancies between the contractors representing the homeowners and the county and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection have stalled the dune restoration efforts until now. The project- which will also include enhanced parking and access for pedestrians, emergency vehicles and horseback riders, a new beach walkover and native landscaping- is now expected to be completed by the beginning of the spring.
“We’re just waiting, waiting and waiting,” said Nancy Huang, who is an involved homeowner that lives on Ponte Vedra Boulevard. “We all agreed that this is a one-time thing, and there are a lot of people that are a lot worse off than us. But still, we’re quibbling over stupid little things. We just want to get it done.”
Up to 40 homeowners are involved in this project, said Huang, and many of them have also contracted environmental consultants to conduct dune assessments and apply for permits to rebuild the dunes. Ryan Carter, vice president of Carter Environmental Services in St. Augustine, is one of these consultants. He said disagreements with the county over the permissive use agreement for Mickler’s parking lot, specifically concerning who is liable for which costs, impeded the project’s progress over the past several weeks.
Billy Zeits, assistant director of the St. Johns County Parks & Recreation Department, said this back and forth process was simply a matter of ensuring all interests are protected.
According to Carter, the final agreement states that residents will be responsible for 50% of the cost to repair the parking lot, as well as a contingency fee to cover any unintended damages caused by the contractors managing the project. Residents like Huang are frustrated because they don’t believe they should pay for the repairs of a parking lot that they say has only two years of life expectancy.
“To me, that’s just outrageous,” she said. “But, it is what it is. So, let’s just deal with it.”
Zeits called two years a pessimistic forecast -- meaning it may have lasted longer -- and said overall this is a good example of a public/private partnership.
“The public facility is being used to facilitate a project for private homeowners,” he said. “The public access is going to be restricted. When the access is restored, the public will have a product that is better than the one before it was closed. That cost is going to be shared between the private project and the public tax dollars that are going to be dedicated to the project.”
Carter also said discrepancies with the DEP over the acceptable grain size of the project’s sand source have caused additional, frustrating delays for homeowners.
“A grain of sand,” gasped Huang. “Come on. We have no guarantee that the sand is going to even stay there at this point.”
Zeits feels that the final product will be well worth the wait and hassle.
“It’s unfortunate that it feels for some people that we’re dragging this out,” he said. “But I think in the big picture, it’s going to be a better beach experience for everybody that is accustomed to using that parking lot.”
All access to Mickler’s Landing Beachfront Park and facilities will be restricted to the public throughout the duration of this project.