About two dozen homes in Painters Hill are in danger of severe damage if another storm blows through.
About two dozen homes in Painters Hill, north of Flagler Beach, stand unprotected from the potential effects of any future major storm. Hurricane Matthew washed away the dune that would stop ocean waves from battering them down and flooding their interiors with seawater.
Another 600 homes near the center of the county’s coastline are also vulnerable to flooding.
“On Painters Hill they lost 30 feet in front of those houses,” County Administrator Craig Coffey told commissioners at a Jan. 23 County Commission workshop. The county, he said, is still vulnerable to the threat of neighborhoods reflooding and homes falling into the ocean if northeasters and super tides deplete bluffs or affect areas with no dunes.
Now the county is trying to fix that problem — and protect the other most vulnerable portions of the county’s coastline — before the upcoming Atlantic hurricane season begins in June.
“We’ve been waiting to do a lot of dune work until we can figure out where the money’s coming from,” Coffey said. “We don’t have a big cash flow problem at this time, but June will be right around the corner before we know it.”
Coffey and County Commissioner Nate McLaughlin made the trip to Tallahassee Jan. 23 to seek a $5.35 million Florida Department of Environmental Protection grant to help repair the damaged dune.
The County Commission voted unanimously that morning to give Coffey the authority to pledge up to $4.65 million in county money to match the state grant, to strengthen the county’s position when negotiating with FDEP.
Flagler County is one of six in the state of Florida that has been offered an FDEP grant for dune restoration work. But a total of $1.5 million of the county’s match for that money would have to come out of a county beach restoration fund, leaving nothing leftover. The county has also spent millions on Hurricane Matthew cleanup, and although some of that money could at some point be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, county officials don’t expect to receive that money for months, Coffey said.
If Flagler County gets the FDEP grant, Coffey said, bidding for the work could start as soon as Feb. 1, and a contract to haul sand to replenish the dune could be in place by March 1.
The contractors doing the work would have to get special permits in order to work during sea turtle nesting season, which starts May 1, and some nests would have to be moved to protect hatchlings from the impact of the dune work.
Restoring the dunes along the entire 18 miles of county dunes to their pre-Hurricane Matthew condition, Coffey said, would ultimately cost much more: a total of about $38.3 million, of which $15 million would be within the city of Flagler Beach.
The state of Florida is covering the cost of repairing dune damage in Washington Oaks Gardens State Park.
Hurricane Matthew, Coffey said, brought opportunity along with its devastation. The disaster eased the process for the county to get approval for the long-planned-for Army Corps of Engineers beach renourishment project.
“Had Hurricane Matthew never happened, it would have been an uphill battle for us to get this funding,” Coffey said. “Now we have an opportunity, because of the storm and the way it devastated our beach, to actually get this funding.”