County commissioners direct staff to investigate beach renourishment possibilities

BEACH RENOURISHMENT DISCUSSION at the March 23 Walton County Board of County Commissioners meeting included comments on beach erosion in some areas down to peat layers. This view of the beach post-Hurricane Sally in the Seagrove area shows such erosion.

By DOTTY NIST

After discussing beach erosion and brainstorming on a remedial course of action, the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) has asked county staff and consultants to look into how the county can be better prepared for future impacts to the beaches from storm events.

Walton County District 2 Commissioner Danny Glidewell brought up the topic of beach renourishment at the March 23 BCC meeting at the South Walton Annex. He had requested a report from Brian Kellenberger, Walton County Tourist Development Council (TDC) director of beach operations, on the status of the county’s beach renourishment efforts.

The Walton County Hurricane & Storm Damage Reduction (WCH&SDR) Project, a large-scale project which had been proposed for 18 miles of Walton County’s 26-mile beachfront, had been tabled by the BCC in March 2016. The tabling had followed a decade of work by county and TDC staff and consultants, including many workshops and public hearings, to get project plans to the point of coming before the commissioners for final consideration. Offshore sand deposits would have served as the sand source.

        The BCC’s 2016 tabling of the project had come after a report by Walton County legal counsel that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), county partner in the project, did not believe the project to be viable due to an insufficient number of property owners agreeing to easements required for construction and maintenance of the project.

Kellenberger discussed that the WCH&SDR Project had entered the construction phase in 2014 (although it had not been constructed). He said the good news was that there had been a 10-year “shelf life” for the project and that there are still funding opportunities associated with it, although time is getting short.

In addition to the option of pursuing the WCH&SDR Project, Kellenberger said, there are options for state- and county-funded and TDC-funded beach renourishment projects. However, he observed that in all cases there would be a requirement for construction easements, the same issue faced with the WCH&SDR Project.

“I think with any project we do, we come back to that issue,” he said.

Glidewell observed that Seagrove appeared to be the worst-eroded area of the beach. He said he had seen beach areas there with 20 to 25 feet of beach width at best and where peat deposits on the beach were exposed.

Kellenberger agreed that Seagrove had suffered a lot of erosion over the past several years and that old forests on the beach had been uncovered that never had been in the (recent) past.

Glidewell asked if it would be possible to do a beach renourishment project just in Seagrove.

Kellenberger responded that the USACE’s rule of thumb is that a beach renourishment project is not viable along less than one mile of beach due to the sand not holding up well along shorter distances. It was discussed that there is only approximately 1,000 feet of publicly-dedicated beachfront at Seagrove. Kellenberger also brought up property owners’ litigation challenging the public dedication of some of the beaches in that area.

“There is a way to do beach renourishment…but it takes a lot of effort and a lot of people coming together with likemindedness,” he commented.

Glidewell observed that it sounded as if money was not the problem.

Kellenberger said that there is still federal beach renourishment money available, including opportunities with the WCH&SDR Project, adding that the state allots beach nourishment funding every year and that there are funds in reserve with the TDC from the one-cent beach renourishment component of the bed tax.

Glidewell voiced concern about the time it would take to “ramp up” to renourish the beaches in the event they suffered severe storm damage, which Kellenberger estimated at a one year or two year time frame at best due to state permitting requirements. Glidewell was of the opinion that the county should be prepared for such a situation.

District 5 Commissioner Tony Anderson suggested looking at the samples of the sand from what had been identified as the offshore sand source for the WCH&SDR Project. Kellenberger pledged to bring back information on the cost to obtain those samples for examination.

Anderson said he agreed with Glidewell. “We need to be fully prepared,” he said. He spoke to the need to make sure that the sand would be the right color for placing on the beaches. “We want pristine beaches,” Anderson emphasized.

Glidewell suggested working to get a beach renourishment project permit and “hold it” in case needed, in that way cutting down on the time required to proceed with any project.

Duncan Greer, an engineer with Walton County coastal consultants Taylor Engineering, said the latter had been a recommendation of the consultants after the WCH&SDR Project was tabled. At that time, the county had been in a better position to obtain a permit, Greer explained, but less so now because some of the required information for the permit application is outdated. He spoke to the need to approach regulatory officials on the matter.

Greer pledged to try to do so and bring back information to the BCC.

In response to the commissioners’ direction, Kellenberger also pledged to come back with more information within a month’s time.

Approved later during the course of the meeting was a request on behalf of property owners of six lots on CR-30A in Seagrove for the BCC to approve agreements to allow beach/dune restoration on county property by Dune Doctors, L.L.C., as part of a beach/dune restoration project on those privately-owned lots, with the project to be funded by the property owners. Sand for the project was to be brought onto the beach on a conveyor belt. The project was in connection with emergency permits obtained by the property owners from the state after the beaches were impacted by 2020 Hurricane Sally.

The agreement was approved after verification that county staff would ensure that sand brought in for the project was in compliance with county code standards.