Officials discuss dune project during town hall

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Dune enhancements along Ponte Vedra Beach are scheduled to begin Nov. 1 and be complete sometime next spring, according to St. Johns County officials.

The county hosted a town hall meeting on the project Oct. 14 at the link in Nocatee. Local residents had an opportunity to learn more and ask questions of county officials and a representative of the contractor.

The primary focus of the meeting was to address a temporary partial closure of Mickler’s Landing Beachfront Park to facilitate the enhancements, though other issues were discussed.

The county applied for assistance from FEMA after the beach was substantially damaged in hurricanes Matthew and Irma in 2016 and 2017, respectively. The Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved the $34 million project on June 15.

The project will encompass the nine-mile segment south of the Duval County line to the northern boundary of the Guana Reserve. Other portions of the project include a 1.7-mile segment in South Ponte Vedra Beach and a small stretch of Crescent Beach.

Mickler’s Landing will be completely closed to the public on weekdays, but it will be open on Saturdays and Sundays. This will include pavilions, restrooms and walkways to the beach, though only about half the parking spaces will be available.

The county is hoping to secure free access to the beaches along the Guana Reserve, though that is still in negotiation.

A member of the public asked whether other access sites could be found to mitigate the need for Mickler’s Landing. But the county’s coastal manager, Damon Douglas, said no alternatives could be found.

“I do understand,” he said. “It is a big impact. I know how popular Mickler’s is. It’s a wonderful park. It provides access to a lot of people. If there was any other way we could do it, we would absolutely avoid it.”

During the project, 1,000 to 2,000 feet of beach will be closed to the public at any given time. These portions will progress as workers complete one section and move on to the next.

In the interest of safety, trucks on the beach will be escorted by ATVs, the drivers of which will watch for any beachgoers and stop the trucks if necessary.

Sand will be trucked in from a site in Keystone Heights. About 50 trucks will pass along the main roads through Nocatee in four to five trips per day to the staging area in Cornerstone Park. From there, they will transport the sand to beach access points.

One of the issues raised by some in attendance was the number of homeowners who haven’t agreed to the voluntary temporary easements necessary for the county to put sand on their property.

In the northern segment of Ponte Vedra Beach, 85% of property owners have opted in. In the southern segment, it was 78%.

One reason more property owners haven’t agreed to the easement may be that they are currently out of state and unaware of the project. The enhancements are being offered at no direct cost to property owners, but work will skip over properties where no easements have been acquired.

Easements will be accepted up to two weeks prior to the project reaching a given property. To request an easement, call 904-209-0260 or email coastalprojects@sjcfl.us.

To keep up with the project, go to sjcfl.us/coastalprojects/FEMADunes.aspx.

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