ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – Vilano Beach is a step closer to being renourished after a U.S. Senate panel approved a bill to authorize the work, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson's office said.
Florida's Democratic senator was in St. Johns County Tuesday afternoon to discuss the Vilano Beach project and what's being done to get the county's beaches ready for the upcoming hurricane season, which begins Friday.
His visit came after last week's vote by the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works to pass the bill, which would allow the Army Corps of Engineers to start the $65 million renourishment project in Vilano Beach, covering about 3½ miles north of the St. Augustine Inlet.
With the St. Johns County Coastal Storm Risk Management Project finally on the path to being approved, Nelson met Tuesday with Col. Jason Kirk, with Corps, and county leaders to talk about the project, and what’s being done to restore the county's beaches.
"The entire east coast of Florida, after we had Hurricane Matthew two years ago, it chewed up the beach like you can't believe," Nelson said.
Since Hurricane Matthew swept up Florida's east coast in October 2016, Vilano Beach, which was one of only three beaches in St. Johns County where beach driving was allowed, has been closed to vehicles, except for one month in 2017.
Because the public paid to drive on the beach, St. Johns County has been bringing in less revenue.
Since Hurricanes Matthew and Irma, Henry Dean, chair of the St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners, said that property values have dropped 30 percent. Nelson that will change once the renourishment projects are complete.
"The property values are going to come back," Nelson said. "You ask the question, 'What you can do if you’re a homeowner?' If you’ve got a dune, keep vegetation on that dune because the sand dunes are Mother Nature’s way of protecting the upland land.”
For the last several months, crews have been working to renourish St. Augustine Beach after Hurricanes Matthew and Irma. The entire project is expected to be completed by late June.
"The goal is to finish all this out about another mile south and then north of the St. Augustine Inlet," Nelson said. "Vilano Beach, get that 3½ miles complete, and then they will be in pretty good shape here in St. Johns County."
Kirk said the renourishment projects will better protect the beaches from future hurricanes.
"This beach project is essentially on a five-year renourishment cycle," Kirk said. "So when we build this back, it will be strong than it was before Matthew in 2016."
The full Senate must still approve funding for the Vilano Beach renourishment project.