Commission approves $500K design study for restoring St. Johns County beaches

Projects will depend on whether 60% of residents in 8 identified areas agree to an easement threshold

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – Short-term pain, long-term gain. That’s what St Johns County is facing in beach restoration from last year’s storms, particularly hurricanes Ian and Nicole.

Emergency Management Director Jim Giammanco on Tuesday presented county commissioners with an update on what the effort will cost, how long it will take and what it will look like. There will be short-term pain.

The question is: How long will the long-term gain last? The county’s coastline is under assault from storms with increasing frequency.

Giammanco showed the costs of restoration at eight locations, going south from Ponte Vedra Beach to Summer Haven, a total of 25 miles. The total cost is more than $62 million.

The county can apply for grants from FEMA (75%) and the state (12.5%), but that’s reimbursement, so the county would have to pay the cost of the projects up front. Giammanco says the county is only going to proceed with restoration in areas where 60% of residents agree to easements — that is, allowing work to take place in front of their properties.

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Of the eight areas, only four have reached the 60% threshold, and all of them are in Ponte Vedra Beach. Vilano Beach (38%), Butler Beach (37%), Crescent Beach (47%) and Summer Haven (52%) are below the threshold, and the deadline is fast approaching.

Giammanco told the commission that access to the beaches is always the issue, and each approach creates its own problems. For projects that would rely on sand being trucked in, that could mean 50,000 truckloads coming down A1A. Dredging projects would mean large staging areas, piles of sand, drying pits, long pipelines and operation 24/7. The staging could make a section of the beach inaccessible for months.

“One storm brought the sand in and one storm took the sand out and probably another storm is gonna bring the sand back in and that’s nature,” said David Rehmann, who owns property on Crescent Beach.

Skye Taylor lives along Old A1A, where she’s been for 15 years. Her neighborhood — Summer Haven — is just below the threshold, and she’s worried about potential repercussions.

“It’s important to protect A1A and, unfortunately, I think people don’t understand that’s the bigger issue,” Taylor said. “A lot of people think it’s an issue of a few wealthy homes and it’s not.”

One commissioner told Giammanco that her constituents don’t want to put up with nonstop truck traffic. While they prefer dredging, they don’t want their property destroyed either.

Only one of the Ponte Vedra projects has a federal dredging permit. Giammanco pointed out that it takes up to five years to obtain a permit.

In the end, the commission voted 5-0 to approve a $500,000 design study for all eight areas. The projects will depend on the 60% easement threshold.

Giammanco said that once work begins in a given area, it will be too late for property owners who denied easements to change their minds.

About the Authors:

Renee Beninate is a Florida native and award-winning reporter who joined the News4Jax team in June 2021.