Storm off coast not deterring beachgoers

Erosion, boating safety concerns

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. - Despite the heavy surf in St. Johns County from Tropical Storm Arthur, there are still people enjoying the beach, particularly those visiting for the Fourth of July.

Nick Lecrem is with his family from Atlanta. They're actually enjoying the storm.

"I think it will go straight up north from here and I think we'll be OK by tomorrow," Lecrem said Wednesday.

State officials said the problems for Florida have passed. Gov. Rick Scott was in Jacksonville on Wednesday and said everyone can learn from this.

"We're in hurricane season. It started June 1," Scott said. "I want every family to be careful, have three days of water, three days of food. Right now it looks like Tropical Storm Arthur will go north and away from us. We'll get some rain, some riptides. Be careful around the beaches. It's going to pass before the Fourth of July, so we'll have a great Fourth of July weekend."

For the last three days, officials at the St. Johns County Emergency Operations Center have been watching closely. They weren't sure what to expect but they said there haven't been any problems.

"We are still paying attention to Arthur," EOC Director Linda Stoughton said. "We are still paying attention to our coastal impact, including high seas offshore and the possibility of the current, also about an inch of rain along the coastline."

Erosion a concern for some residents

Emergency action had to be taken two months ago to protect some homes in South Ponte Vedra Beach from erosion. Other residents are worried the storm could have more of an affect on the erosion.

Victor Halbach built his house in 1987, and now he's watching as Arthur is taking away part of the oceanfront property. The dune buffering his house is quickly being washed away. He's trying to protect it, but state officials say a lot more of the dune has to be washed away before he can build a wall.

The supports for the walkway are already exposed, which is why Halbach is asking for permits to fix the problem.

"By the way, we are willing to do this at our expense," he said. "We are not asking the state or the county or anybody to pay for it, if they will just let us build a wall."

Further down from Halbach, some homes were allowed to put up a wall last month to protect their property, and for now it's working. Halbach wants to build the same thing in front of his property but isn't allowed to.

County officials are aware of the situation. They took aerial photographs Tuesday to document what the beach looked like then, and they will take more photos later this week to see if there was any erosion.

They don't think there's going to be a problem this week. Halbach said just wait and see.

"In a month and half we lost another 35, 40 feet of dune," he said.

Boaters warned of rough waters, windy conditions

The Coast Guard is urging boaters to be careful and protect their vessels as winds and waves increase.

"We are asking boaters to take a look at the weather, take precautions before they choose to get underway and know what their capabilities and limitations are," Petty Officer Lauren Jorgensen said.

Coast Guard members are watching the conditions and urging people to be careful on the waterways. Rip currents remain a danger at the beaches, and inland waters can be treacherous.

Waves offshore are expected to hit 9 feet.

"The National Weather Service is forecasting 40 mph wind gusts in coastal areas," Jorgensen said. "So it's really important for boaters to go out now and secure their vessels and secure any gear that's laying around on their boats."

The St. Johns River Ferry is still running on schedule.

"We will just keep running until the winds get up near 45 mph, and then we will shut the operation down at that point, but hopefully it will not get to that," said Capt. David White.

But the area's newest casino ship is staying docked for the night. The Victory II canceled its ocean cruises Tuesday and Wednesday nights but hopes to reopen Thursday.

"We don't like it. We are not big fans of Arthur," said Elaine Brown, of the casino. "We definitely want to sail, but you always have to be cautious."

Copyright 2014 by All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.