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Parts of Vilano Beach washing away with nor’easter waves, despite renourishment efforts

Multi-million dollar renourishment project no stopping beach erosion concerns amid high tide in St. Johns County

Saturday's higher-than normal tide, along with the heavy amount of rain recently, has oceanside residents concerned about the erosion near their homes. News4Jax reporter Joe McLean shows us the issue up close.

ST. JOHN'S COUNTY, Fla. – The higher-than-normal tide, along with heavy rain from a passing nor’easter has ocean-side residents concerned about beach erosion, particularly in St. Johns County.

As the king tide sinks back down, it’s bringing a chunk of the beaches with it -- a familiar sight to St. Johns County beach residents.

This erosion is of particular concern to beachside homes as water is slowly eating away at even the retaining walls. Every time tidal flooding happens, part of the beach disappears.

Over the past decade, the beaches in St. Johns County have been washed away by two hurricanes and several other nor’easters.

Jo Sinclair lives in Vilano Beach and has seen the problem first-hand.

“I’ve lived here 38 years, and I’m in a neighborhood that floods,” she said. “Even watching the beach change. They did that renourishment last year and the shifting, it’s like it didn’t even do anything.”

The higher-than-normal tide, along with heavy rain from a passing nor’easter has ocean-side residents concerned about beach erosion, particularly in St. Johns County. As the king tide sinks back down, it’s bringing a chunk of the beaches with it -- a familiar sight to St. Johns County beach residents.

Earlier this summer, Vilano Beach’s restoration project was completed, which placed over a million cubic yards of sand over a 2½-mile stretch.

“The project does a lot of good things for us for the community. It protects the beach, it protects the roadways, the evacuation routes. Also it’s a major economic driver of tourism. Also protects property,” Emergency Management Director Joseph Giammanco said at the time.

The project dug sand out of the inlet near the old cross in St. Augustine. The project by the Army Corps of Engineers -- approved by the county in April 2019 -- was designed to provide sand for the next 50 years at the tab of $144 million.

But there’s a warning for these projects. Earlier this year, a coastal engineering expert warned that as the decades go by, renourishment projects like these may become more difficult.

“The problem is we’re running out of sand. There’s not an infinite amount of sand off the coast, so we need to think beyond sand and see what can we do to make our coast resilient,” said Dr. Don Resio, UNF professor emeritus of engineering.

More similar projects are in the works right now, but storms like the one that pummeled the area Friday and Saturday only accelerate the urgency.

In January, Congress green-lit a half-million dollars to the Army Corps of Engineers to study how St. Johns County’s beaches are eroding, in what’s called a “risk management study.” It’ll take three years and cost up to $3 million.

Area homeowners like Sinclair said it’s well worth the investment.

“Nature is telling us that we need to change the way we do things,” she said, “and it’s going to claim its right. It’s just the way it is.”

For the Sunshine State, maintaining the coasts is critical, as roughly 70% of the state’s population lives within 10 minutes of the shore.


About the Authors:

Joe covers education and breaking news. He is a frequent contributor to the News4Jax I-team and Trust Index coverage.

Specializes in Clay County issues, general assignment reporting and stories off the beaten path and anchors weekend evening newscasts.