Costs to save southern areas of St. Johns County from erosion are pricey
St. Johns County is considering a study that came up with options to combat beachfront erosion.

More than $10M has already been spent on beach nourishment projects.

St. Johns County Commissioners will likely soon consider elements of an environmental and financial sustainability study to possibly nourish a coastal housing community and surrounding areas that have long been pummeled by the ocean and erosion for years.

The St. Johns County Commission reviewed a presentation on the study for the Summer Haven community, which is in the southern reaches of the county along State Road A1A just north and south of Matanzas Inlet. The housing complex hosts about 60 structures, some of which are literally on sandbars along barrier islands and exposed directly to the Atlantic Ocean.

The commission directed staff to follow up with an economic benefits analysis of the Summer Haven River which runs from the Matanzas Inlet west of the beach and some of the houses.

Those structures have sustained bouts of heavy ocean erosion the county has funded to combat since the 1990s into the 2000s. Summer Haven in some ways represents the persistent threat of coastal erosion in Florida while attracting repeated media profiles.

More than $10 million has already been spent on beach nourishment projects including mitigation of some of the damage caused by multiple hurricanes in the past five years at Summer Haven.

Joe Giammanco, St. Johns County Emergency Management Director, said Summer Haven may be the focal point of any study, but the county is “looking at the entire area” surrounding Summer Haven, including the Intracoastal Waterway area, several islands and the Matanzas Inlet itself. That could account for nearly 300 total houses in the area along with recreational and environmentally sensitive areas.

There are similar studies by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection as well. But Giammanco said those estimated costs in the state’s analysis “are a little low” in terms of cost for repairs or future measures to counter beach erosion.

The study the county commissioned was with INTERA-GEC LLC engineering firm based in Neptune Beach. It recounts the history of efforts by the county to try and buttress the area against erosion.

The study said previous measures simply were not very effective.

“The fate of these prior projects demonstrates … the need to identify a sustainable long-term robust solution to prevent breaches and overwash of sand into the (Matanzas) River,” the report said.

The study also came up with four options for future measures to deal with erosion including:

— Building a sea wall at the cost of $47 million along with another $11.9 million in maintenance costs in the next 50 years.

— Implement more beach and dune nourishment at the cost of $121.9 million in the next 50 years.

— Managed retreat, which means maintaining lost beach, dune and shoal areas without adding new sand or sea walls at the cost of $3.13 million.

— Doing nothing at no cost.

The study concluded that given the massive dollar figures needed to take action, the county won’t be able to fund those projects on its own.

“Given the large costs associated with the engineering alternatives, the county will likely have to leverage funds from various local, state, and possibly federal sources to implement them,” the study stated.

“We had a study going on for many months,” said Wayne Larson, St. Johns County Director of Public Affairs. “The study shows that we’ve been investing in this area since the 1990s. It’s an important and vibrant area to our community and we want to keep it so.”

The study cost about $400,000 to conduct. The County Commission will review the recommendations and could make a decision on how to proceed in 2024 after the economic analysis is finalized and presented to the board.

Drew Dixon

Drew Dixon is a journalist of 40 years who has reported in print and broadcast throughout Florida, starting in Ohio in the 1980s. He is also an adjunct professor of philosophy and ethics at three colleges, Jacksonville University, University of North Florida and Florida State College at Jacksonville. You can reach him at [email protected].

One comment

  • Sonja Fitch

    December 21, 2023 at 1:48 pm

    Climate change is REAL ! Cut the losses and move! Wasting dollars on the path of Destruction is senseless . Use dollars to buy from owners. Please! Drive down in Flagler County and see the destruction of the coastline. Use dollars wisely.

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