A group of Ponte Vedra Beach residents has banded together to initiate a voluntary beach renourishment program aimed at shoring up homes impacted by beach erosion caused by Hurricane Matthew.
“These people lost 40 to 50 feet of their back yards,” said Kitty Switkes, Ponte Vedra Community Association representative at large for community appearance. “They’re only five feet away from their homes falling. Some of their homes could be in trouble.”
Residents began joining together as a critical mass and contacting environmental consultants like Ryan Carter, vice president of Carter Environmental Services in St. Augustine, to initiate dune assessments and apply for permits to rebuild their dunes.
“Once people realized that the primary dune is gone, the historic secondary dune is now their primary defense and their house is sitting on or behind the secondary dune, they needed to do something,” said Carter. “They have structural engineering problems. They need sand now to shore up their homes.”
After receiving several phone calls on the matter, Carter engaged with St. Johns County officials and a group of contractors to help facilitate a voluntary dune restoration project that he said they hope to begin on Nov. 21 and finish by the end of the year.
As a result of the residents’ concerted efforts and the emergency circumstances characterizing the situation, Carter said the county has contracted and granted permission to A.J. Johns Inc., a Jacksonville-based construction company, to use the parking lot in Mickler’s Landing Beach as a staging area to store sand that will then be distributed to rebuild the dunes.
“We’re going to be bringing anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 loads of beach compatible sand with on-road trucks, dropping it at Mickler’s, transferring it to off-road trucks, bringing it to the individuals’ homes and then using a dozer to re-grade the dune,” said Carter.
Elliot Jones, project manager at A.J. Johns, said the parking lot, which is approximately 8,000 square yards, will be used in its entirety and closed for the duration of construction. As part of the project, A.J. Johns will demolish the boardwalk to allow for trucks to access the beach. The St. Johns County recreation department will later rebuild the boardwalk.
Carter said homeowners are working with environmental consulting or landscape architect firms like his own to assess their dune conditions and develop a restoration plan that can be provided to A.J. Johns so they can give homeowners an estimate of how much their respective projects will cost. According to Carter, that could be anywhere from $5,000 to $200,000 depending on the amount of sand and materials needed.
Carter said homeowners that have contracted with his company will be included in a blanket application to be sent to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to expedite the process and save the DEP from having to issue several dozen permits. The permit is necessary, he said, to allow for the dune restoration to be completed.
Florida Governor Rick Scott issued an emergency order a few days prior to Hurricane Matthew that allowed the DEP to grant this permit. That permit, Carter said, expired Nov. 1 but was immediately reauthorized for an additional 30 days, meaning individuals can apply for the permit until Dec. 1. The permit is valid for 90 days.
“This is an emergency, and that’s why the county is allowing this, as well as the DEP,” said Carter. “At no other time in my life have I seen off-road trucks being able to drive on the beach in this capacity.”
The Ponte Vedra Beach Municipal Service District (MSD) will meet Monday, Nov. 14 at 6 p.m. in the cultural center at Our Lady of the Sea Catholic Church, and beach renourishment is expected to be a primary topic of discussion.