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Palm Coast Thursday, Sep. 10, 2020 1 month ago

County will pursue eminent domain for two properties blocking beach renourishment project

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Two properties with a single owner are holding up the multi-million dollar project designed to protect coastal areas from inundation during future storms.
by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

Flagler County will file suit to begin eminent domain proceedings for two beachfront properties whose owner has not agreed to allow a multi-million dollar beach renourishment project to proceed across the properties. 

A decision in favor of the county would allow for the project to occur across the two parcels.

"I, probably as much as anyone, finds the idea of eminent domain to be repugnant," County Administrator Jerry Cameron told county commissioners during a Sept. 9 County Commission meeting. "But if there is ever a case where you stand to lose tens of millions of dollars in insurance by a beach for 50 years, and one person that is not going to be able to make use of those lots anyway will hold that up and cause the rest of the neighbors, and indeed a good part of the rest of the city, to be exposed to extreme peril — if ever there were a case for eminent domain, this is it."

"... If ever there were a case for eminent domain, this is it."

 

— JERRY CAMERON, Flagler County administrator

The project, which would be completed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, would add additional sand to build up a dune that would protect the coastal areas behind it from flooding during a future storm such as Hurricane Matthew, which damaged much of State Road A1A and flooded nearby properties. The Army Corps would maintain the project for 50 years.

Because any gap in the project would create a breach point that could undermine the entire thing, the Corps does not want to proceed unless it will be able to complete the entire, 2.6-mile project length.

That requires signed easements from all of the coastal property owners whose properties are in the project length. The county government spend months trying to get people to sign, pointing out that they would retain all of their property rights and that the dune and widened beach would add value to their property by enlarging it. Most owners agreed.

Still, it took a grassroots effort by Flagler Beach residents — who raised more than $40,000 to pay off a group of holdouts who had been pressing the county for money — to get some to sign, and one property owner who owns two lots still has not done so.

The remaining two properties, County Attorney Al Hadeed pointed out to county commissioners during a Sept. 9 County Commission meeting, are remnants — stretches of beach east of A1A on which nothing, except a beach walkover, can be built.

Hadeed said he expected that the court system would be able to expedite the suit on the basis that the two properties are preventing initiation of the dune project. The Army Corps is supporting the county's decision to begin eminent domain proceedings, given that there seems to be no other option, Hadeed said. 

"We have made numerous contacts with the owner," he said. "They've been unsuccessful."

Several Flagler Beach residents spoke during the meeting's public comment period. All urged the county to pursue eminent domain.

"This holdup ... of this project is a danger to the entire beachside community," John Cameron said. "Every business that was closed because the highway was torn apart by a raging ocean, and then the repair that took all those months — many of them went under; all of them got seriously hurt. We all got seriously hurt. The people need you to support this vigorously. ... It’s like a rotten tree hanging over your property, and you tell your neighbor, 'You're getting ready to crush my house — take that tree down.' These people ... have set themselves up, and they have set all of us up, for a disaster, and this is the least painful way for them as well as for us."

Resident Sisco Deen agreed. 

"We’re all in peril over there. Let's get it done," he said. 

Ken Bryan, a Flagler Beach city commissioner who noted that he was speaking as a resident, not as a commissioner, said he agreed that eminent domain was the right move. 

"There are a lot of residents there that are very, very concerned," he said. "The businesses, and all of Flagler Beach, could essentially disappear if we have another couple hurricanes like we've had in the past."

County Commissioner Donald O'Brien said he opposes eminent domain in almost every circumstance, but not in this one.

"I think this is a textbook example of where it should be used," he said. 

Other commissioners agreed. The commission voted 5-0 to have the county government begin eminent domain proceedings.

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