By Martie Thompson
Residents of Ponte Vedra, South Ponte Vedra and Vilano Beach, wearing red shirts to identify themselves, nearly filled the County Auditorium at the July 17 St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners meeting. At stake, in addition to an agenda item dealing with dune restoration of South Ponte Vedra Beach and Vilano Beach, was a proposal for the county to fund, in the amount of $200,000, the hiring of coastal engineers Olsen Associates to begin working immediately on the permitting and development of a dredging site that will hopefully be used to restore sand to Ponte Vedra Beach.
After presentation by county staff and public comment, the commissioners approved, by a vote of 3 – 2, a revised proposal which approved the $200,000 for sand source investigation and permitting, but utilized the services of a different coastal engineering firm with whom the county already has a contract.
Lori Moffett, one of the founders of Save Ponte Vedra Beach, Inc., was present at the meeting and advocated on behalf of the proposal. During public comment, she said that this proposal would get a beach renourishment program off the ground and that having such a program in place is critical in the eyes of the state and federal governments to be eligible for funding.
“We are thrilled that the county will be hiring a coastal engineer to restore the beach and that they are putting in some initial funding for it,” Moffett said after the meeting. “It took a massive effort on the part of hundreds of people in St. Johns County that love Mickler’s Beach and all points north and south. The county’s largest public beach in terms of public access/parking spots is in desperate need of investment and the people of St. Johns County have strongly voiced their support for it. Thank you, Commissioners Paul Waldron, Henry Dean and Jay Morris for making it happen!”
Save Ponte Vedra Beach is a non-profit organization that was created with the goal of getting Ponte Vedra Beach restored. According to Moffett, the group used citizen donations to hire coastal engineering firm Olsen Associates to do an initial assessment of the beach.
“Olsen Associates found that we have lost 130 feet of width of our beach since the 1980s,” Moffett said. “We continue to lose about three feet per year on average. The beach has lowered by five to 30 feet across Ponte Vedra Beach and it is now down to the coquina that once laid several feet beneath the sand.”
Following their assessment, Olsen Associates has a plan to renourish the beach with more sand. A dredging site has been located five miles off the coast as well as another site closer in. The sand needs to be sampled to ensure that it meets the criteria to be used for renourishment. The full nine miles of Ponte Vedra Beach, from the Duval County line to Guana, is the scope of the project.
“Now we are getting to the project itself, not just the surveying, and this cannot be funded by donations,” Moffett said.
She said that funding would need to come from a variety of sources, including possibilities such as funds from the state of Florida, a proposal to increase the St. Johns County bed tax by one cent, and creation of a municipal service taxing unit (MSTU). Federal funding is also a possibility eventually.
According to Moffett, Olsen Associates concluded that beach renournishment is the only solution to resolving the erosion problem along Ponte Vedra Beach. Most coastal counties in Florida have a renourishment plan, but St. Johns County does not. It’s important to note that adding sand to the beach is not a permanent fix as the forces which move sand along a coastline still exist. This is why a renourishment program is so important, since it will address the required maintenance. Conversely, seawalls and other shoreline armoring (the only present alternative to many homeowners) will increase the existing erosion, since they lower the beach further and accelerate the erosion of the coastline.
Moffett, a five year resident of Ponte Vedra Beach, has no background in coastal or environmental engineering, but said she considers herself an advocate of the beach.
“For people who live in Ponte Vedra Beach, the beach is why we live here,” she said. “So we have a choice. We can either let the beach go or we can move … but we’d prefer to fix our beach and that’s a real possibility now.”
Photos courtesy Save Ponte Vedra Beach
Mickler’s Beach after hurricanes Irma and Matthew and numerous Nor’easters.