PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Some people living in St. Johns County are taking matters into their own hands to save their homes. There’s a massive project going on to restore the dunes and keep homes from crumbling.
To help, St. Johns County Commissioners approved a $34 million FEMA enhancement project for extra protection to 20 miles of homes and businesses on Tuesday. It’s predominantly funded by FEMA.
Ponte Vedra Beach homeowners know the impacts of hurricanes all too well. Between Hurricanes Matthew and Irma, FEMA’s Environmental Assessment found the county lost 1,056,432 cubic yards of sand. To put that in perspective, that’s how much sand you would need to fill 2,120 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Thierry Palmer, who owns a house along A1A as an investment property, said Hurricane Irma swept away the house next to him and it ended up across the highway, so he built a seawall to protect his property, costing him more than $100,000. Other neighbors are also taking matters into their own hands.
“This home right here is getting worked on right now,” said Palmer. “You could see the foundation is exposed. Very close to basically washing out into the ocean and crumbling.”
Palmer took News4Jax behind his home to show the damage still left behind from the storms. His one neighbor’s house is completely gone.
“Same thing with this one, but luckily they put a seawall up probably about a year and a half ago,” said Palmer.
Now the county is stepping in to add an additional defense for the coastline against future storms.
“As the ocean comes up, it’s taking the sand right back out into the ocean, and it’s damaging the foundation,” said Palmer.
According to the project permit, 750,000 cubic yards of sand will be trucked in to strengthen coastline dunes in Ponte Vedra Beach, South Ponte Vedra Beach and the southern portion of Crescent Beach.
According to the Environmental Assessment, prior to this project, the county was able to receive federal assistance following Hurricanes Matthew and Irma.
In October 2016, President Barack Obama signed a disaster declaration authorizing the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide federal assistance to the designated areas of Florida. Then after Irma hit a year later, President Donald Trump signed the same order.
“I think it’s going to be something that the county and the state are going to have to stay on top of,” said Palmer.
Beach closures are expected sometime between late summer to the end of December for parts of the beaches where work with happen. Those closures include Micker’s Landing Beachfront Park, where the beach will be closed Monday through Friday and open on the weekends during the course of the project.
St. Johns County said efforts will be made to safely maintain pedestrian and vehicle access to the beaches and that most will remain open for the duration of the project.
In addition to sand placement, the project includes planting sea oats and other vegetation. Crews will be monitoring for sea turtles and beach mice.
St. Johns County is currently accepting voluntary temporary easements from property owners in the approved project areas who wish to participate in receiving additional dune protection. Easements will be accepted throughout the project, as long as the request is made within two weeks of the project reaching the property related to that particular easement. The deadline to rescind easements is July 1.
Preparations for the project are scheduled to start in July. The county hopes to officially start late summer to early fall and finish at the end of December.