Project would protect beaches along county’s northern shore

Available public parking key to Ponte Vedra’s inclusion

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A plan to renourish Ponte Vedra’s beaches or protect them from erosion in some other way may ultimately depend upon how much access the public has to the sand.

That’s because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is studying the possibility of such a project, cannot spend federal tax dollars on what might be considered private beaches.

Thursday, July 15, a Corps Jacksonville District panel gave a pair of public presentations on the proposed project. These virtual meetings served as one of the first steps in the process of ensuring the project would satisfy mandates set forth in the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA).

Residents and beachgoers can expect to see survey crews on the beach soon.

The district entered into a cost share agreement with St. Johns County on April 19; this will authorize the Corps to evaluate implementation of what it terms “coastal storm risk management opportunities” over a 50-year period.

That means if Congress authorizes and funds the federal share of the project, strategies could be implemented to protect the beach from erosion, including storm-driven erosion, starting as early as April 2026 and extending over the following 50 years. One of the possible strategies could be a renourishment, or the placement of tons of sand — dredged from offshore — along the beach.

Other possible strategies include dune vegetation, groins and breakwaters, rock revetments or some combination of these.

The purpose of the project is to manage coastal storm risk, enhance existing habitat and protect State Road A1A, which is a hurricane evacuation route.

Regardless of whether the NEPA study permits the project to move to the next step, poor public access to the beach and inadequate parking for beachgoers could interfere with the project’s implementation.

While northern Ponte Vedra Beach does have several public access points, there are really only two places where adequate parking is available on “a free or reasonable basis within practical walking distance,” as mandated by the Corps.

These are Mickler Beach and the area around Corona Road. Each eligible access point allows inclusion of a half mile of beach in the project — a quarter mile north and south of the access point. However, no stretch of the coast shorter than one mile would qualify for the project because it would be cost-prohibitive.

To make at least a mile — or the entire 8.7 miles — of the northern Ponte Vedra Beach shore eligible, either adequate parking would have to be established or public transportation to access points would have to be provided.

If those conditions are not met, northern Ponte Vedra Beach could be excluded from the larger project, which encompasses the coast from the Duval County line south to the South Ponte Vedra Beach area in the vicinity of the Serenata Beach Club.

Still, project manager Jason Harrah cautioned that, “It’s very, very important for folks to understand that we’re very early in this process.”

The NEPA study does not address parking and access concerns, but rather considers a long list of environmental factors.

The study must be complete within three years and cost no more than $3 million. That cost is spread over those years and is equally borne by both the Corps and the county. Each partner will spend $500,000 on this year’s portion of the cost.

Part of the environmental study segment of the project is to solicit public comment relevant to the NEPA focus. Members of the public may submit comments as late as July 29.

These may be submitted by email to PonteVedraBeachCSRM@usace.army.mil, using “Ponte Vedra Beach CSRM NEPA Scoping Comments” in the subject line.

They can also be submitted by U.S. mail to: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 701 San Marco Blvd., Jacksonville, FL 32207, Attention: Mr. Darren Pecora.

Information on the study will be available at https://go.usa.gov/x6AgA. For information about district studies and projects, go to www.saj.usace.army.mil.

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