Special to the Recorder
Following the damaging effects of Hurricane Matthew, Gary Jurenovich, chairman of the Ponte Vedra Beach Municipal Service District (MSD) board, told local residents at the MSD meeting on Monday evening that he will move quickly to address beach dune restoration.
“We will lobby the county hard to get this started soon and take it to the state,” said Jurenovich at the meeting in the Ponte Vedra Beach Library. “It’s a football field out there. We’re going to get on this.”
With several beach dunes flattened by Matthew, meeting attendees expressed their concern about the immediate and long-term safety of the beaches and beachfront homeowners. Historically, the dunes have served as the first line of defense against storms.
“We need to build that primary dune back up so that when the next hurricane hits, it will protect us just like it did this time,” said Nancy Condron, a Ponte Vedra Beach resident. “It’s not an issue of protecting beachfront homeowners’ property values; it’s an issue of protecting our whole barrier island. If those dunes go, we go.”
Meeting attendees also said people are currently walking on the dunes, which are littered with dangerous debris, and trespassing on private property to see the damage inflicted by Matthew.
In response, Jurenovich said he would speak with St. Johns County officials this week via phone and meet with county beach services on Oct. 24 to set a plan in motion to resurrect the dunes.
MSD Trustee Greg Wong sympathized with meeting attendees and agreed that the dunes must be restored as soon as possible. He said if it weren’t for the dunes, his house would be a foot or two underwater. He was also grateful that Matthew veered slightly east, and said they would be having a completely different conversation had that not been the case.
“It was believed there was going to be catastrophic damage to Ponte Vedra,” said Wong, who was at the St. Johns County emergency operations center during the storm. “The official projections were for total devastation of the barrier islands and extensive structural collapse. The hurricane shifted about 15 miles to the east, and that was the difference between 11-foot storm surge and 5.3-foot storm surge, which was the second-largest on record.”
Jurenovich echoed Wong’s sentiments and expected the very worst for Ponte Vedra, especially after hearing from government officials the day before the storm hit.
“Body bags were shipped to us,” said Jurenovich. “They asked us to start thinking about a place to set up here to distribute food and water.”
Jurenovich also expressed his shock concerning the number of people in the community that he felt were unprepared. He spoke to two of his neighbors who wouldn’t evacuate and said, “Get a magic marker and put your social security number on your forearm so at least they can identify you.”
Moving forward, residents like Condron are also expecting the worst if the dunes are not restored before another storm hits.
“There are homeowners whose houses are going to fall off those 20-foot cliffs if we don’t get something done,” said Condron. “You can’t say nature is going to take care of it. This is not something nature has ever done to this coastline before. We need your focus.”
The next MSD meeting is Monday, Nov. 14, in the PGA Room of the Ponte Vedra Beach Library.