By DOTTY NIST
With construction on Walton County’s countywide beach nourishment project envisioned for 2015, the Walton County Tourist Development Council (TDC) has initiated a series of informational workshops on the project for property owners and other citizens.
The first meeting of the series took place on Dec. 3 at the South Walton Annex, with seven members of the public in attendance. Jim Bagby, TDC executive director, and Dave Sell, TDC beach maintenance manager, were present as well.
Brad Pickel, beach management consultant for the TDC, led the meeting.
Pickel explained that the purpose of such projects is to lessen storm impacts. Walton County’s large-scale beach nourishment project, completed in 2007, was constructed on a 5.2-mile-long stretch of beach extending to the county line on the west. It was a state project.
The TDC and its consultants have been working since 2002 to secure federal funding for nourishment of other critically-eroded beach areas in Walton County. In 2012, Walton County’s proposed beach nourishment project was deemed a federal project and was renamed the Walton County Hurricane and Storm Damage Reduction Project.
Pickel explained that acceptance of the project by the federal government will ensure that the government will be a cost-sharing partner for beach nourishment for 50 years.
Required for the project by the federal government was an analysis of alternatives to beach nourishment, Pickel told the group. One of those was the examination of the feasibility of removing all structures from eroded beachfront areas and purchase of all land associated with those lots from property owners. The estimated cost to do this was $3.4 billion, with the result that this was deemed an unfeasible alternative.
The estimated cost for the proposed beach nourishment project is approximately $60 million for the initial construction.
Included with the project would be four additional nourishments in decreasing volumes, taking place every 10 years. The total estimated cost over the 50-year period would be $102 million, or approximately $2 million per year, with a total of 9.7 million cubic yards of sand being added to the beaches.
Sand for the project is to be dredged from underwater borrow sites and pumped onto the beach through a submerged pipeline.
Project areas are to include five “reaches,” the first from the Walton-Okaloosa line to Topsail Hill Preserve State Park, the second from Dune Allen/Stallworth Lake to Blue Mountain Beach/Big Redfish Lake, the third from Gulf Trace to Western Grayton Beach, the fourth from WaterColor to Deer Lake State Park, and the fifth from Camp Creek Lake to the Walton-Bay County line.
Much less sand is expected to be needed for the first reach, due to it having been nourished in Walton County’s initial beach nourishment project. Pickel noted that the last survey performed on that stretch showed approximately 90 percent of the sand that had been added still in place.
Pickel reported that, based on current estimates and anticipated timing of construction, TDC bed tax funds set aside for beach nourishment, together with loans secured by the TDC through those taxes, should be sufficient to cover the local cost share of the project, which should be 52 percent. This is based on anticipated federal and state funds being received.
Beach and offshore engineering for the project have been completed, and project engineering design is underway by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Mobile District.
TDC consultants are winding up research for construction easements to be obtained from gulf-front property owners for construction of the project. Property owners are to be presented with easement packages beginning in February 2014.
Some beachfront property owners attending the meeting were concerned that the addition of sand to their property as part of the project would negatively impact their property rights.
Sharon Higgins was worried that she would no longer be able to tell beachgoers not to dig holes on her beachfront property.
“We’d love to have the renourishment…however my neighbors are frozen in fear,” Fort Panic property owner Ed Goodwin commented. He had heard that sand placed anywhere on his property would make that part of his lot a public easement.
Pickel responded that addition of sand to one’s property does not affect ownership and that the easement documents ensure that “any rights before are rights after” the construction.
He encouraged property owners to go on the project web site, www.protectwaltoncountybeaches.com for information and to email him via the site with any questions. An informational recorded message on the project is also available by calling (855) 745-6402 toll free.
The public is encouraged to attend the next workshop on the beach nourishment project at 6 p.m. on Feb. 4 at the South Walton Annex.
By DOTTY NIST