County: Dredging needed to fix Vilano boat access

Hurricane Matthew shifts sand closer to dock, causing problems for boaters

VILANO BEACH, Fla. – Boaters in St. Johns County are having a hard time getting to and from the Vilano boat ramp after Hurricane Matthew shifted sand closer to the dock.

At low tide, which is around 5:30 p.m., there can be less than a foot of water covering the sandbar, making it dangerous for boaters.

But boaters trying to avoid the sandbar must also navigate around rocks that are in the deeper waters.

“I've been in St. Augustine about nine years. I do scenic tours on this boat right here,” said boat captain John Webb, who said he now feels uneasy coming in and out of the channel for the boat ramp. “It's definitely an inconvenience for a lot of people, especially if you're not familiar with this area. If you go out there, you can run up on the sand. It's not good.”

The Vilano boat ramp is not only the busiest in the county for recreational users, it’s also used by boats from the Sheriff’s Office, the Fire Department and other agencies.

That's providing even more motivation for the county to solve the problem, which officials said will be done with a dredging project.

The results of a survey to determine how much sand will have to be removed showed that the county will need to dredge 10,000 cubic yards of sand. As a reference, that amount of sand would fill slightly more than three Olympic-sized swimming pools.

County officials said that if they wait for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide the funds to cover the project, it could take eight months to three years to complete.

To get it done faster, they’ll have to look at the county's general funds reserve. They said they hope to have the project completed in time for the busy summer boating season.

The county will next solicit bids for the project and will have a meeting to determine a funding source once they have an estimate of the project's cost.