Seawalls may have to wait in St. Johns County, all because of turtles

Some homes may have to endure another hurricane season unprotected

By Staci Spanos - Reporter/anchor

VILANO BEACH, Fla. - It’s difficult for some St. Johns County residents to protect their homes from any hurricanes this year -- because of sea turtles.

Contractor Richard Whiting has been working nonstop to build seawalls for old and new clients, but now there’s a holdup involving the animals.

Here’s the situation: In Northeast Florida, state officials shut down any beachfront construction from May 1 through the month of October, so that turtles can lay their eggs. This year, homeowners have gotten exemptions to work into the season, but most will have to wait until November to build a seawall.

That means their homes will have to endure another hurricane season unprotected.

“You know, I like the idea of saving the turtles,” Whiting said. “I'm all about that. But these people also have houses to save, too, so it's a trade-off. It’s kind of splitting hairs. I don't know which one is right or wrong, but I think people have a right to protect their home, too.”

RELATED: Hurricane Matthew left lives, neighborhoods forever changed

The 2017 hurricane season officially started Thursday, but many people in the Jacksonville area are still dealing with the effects of last year’s season. It was just eight months ago when Hurricane Matthew scoured the coast of Northeast Florida, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.

When Hurricane Matthew came ashore on Vilano Beach, the effects of the huge storm were made worse by the fact that it came in at high tide. Many beachfront homes were battered and their foundations undermined by the waves.

Many still stand, but are badly damaged, looking exactly as they did the day after the storm.

Whiting has been working in the area since the hurricane hit.

“It's total devastation down here,” he said. “You can't see it from A1A, but if you come up beach side, you can just see that everyone's lost a lot out here.”

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Whiting has been staying at one beachfront home for months.

In exchange for a place to sleep, he’s rebuilding the seawall at the Vilano Beach house, which was washed away during Hurricane Matthew. He first installed the seawall 11 years ago.

“Yes, we put it (in) back in '06,” Whiting said. “They were never meant to save them from hurricanes. They were meant (to protect) from the erosion of the northeasters and high tide, but it did save these houses.”

Other houses that did not have seawalls didn't fare so well. Many were pulverized.

The seawalls cost $50,000 for a 75-foot wall; that amount doesn't include all the backfill that goes in once the wall is complete.

Insurance does not cover the cost of a seawall. Still, Whiting said, he's been extremely busy with people wanting these walls, just in case another storm such as Matthew rolls in.

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