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Palm Coast Monday, Jun. 29, 2020 2 months ago

Deadline nears, and Flagler dune restoration project is in jeopardy, due to 17 holdouts

Twelve of the holdouts are represented by an attorney who wants the county to pay, as if this were an eminent domain situation.
by: Brian McMillan Executive Editor

Updated 6:43 p.m. June 29

Drawing expressions of disbelief and desperation from elected officials and business owners alike, Flagler County Attorney Al Hadeed explained on June 29 that about 17 property owners still stand in the way of a $25 million beach dune restoration that he called the most significant public works project in county history.

“It has to be done,” Hadeed said. “Now, we, as the government — we’ve done everything we can.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is planning to build a dune that would repair much of the damage done four years ago by Hurricane Matthew, Hadeed said. It would also firm up State Road A1A without compromising the view of the beach, thereby preserving the charm and character of Flagler Beach. The beach will be lengthened and widened, giving more land for marine life, as well.

“We have no protection — none. We’re naked to the next storm.”

AL HADEED, county attorney

But, it requires permission from each property owner. The deadline is June 30, and it won’t be met, despite months of effort to educate and persuade property owners.

The message county staff will have for the Army Corps is that out of 141, 122 have agreed to let the government restore their piece of the dune, but 17 have refused. Two others are in process. The Army Corps will then have to decide the next move.

A dozen holdouts are represented by the same attorney, Hadeed said. Those dozen believe the county should pay for the work done on their land, as if this were an eminent domain situation.

But Hadeed said eminent domain does not apply in this case because the property owners are not being harmed in any way by the dune being restored. On the contrary: Their property is being reinforced, and it’s being guaranteed by the government for 50 years. It actually makes their property more valuable by enabling them to build a private dune walkover, if they wish.

“Their access to the beach is going to be the same as before, except better — they won’t have to go through all that rubble to get to the beach,” Hadeed said. “They’re going to have a nice dune that’s going to blunt the force of future storms.”


Greed and distrust

County Commissioner Greg Hansen interpreted the holdouts’ motivation as pure “greed.”

County Commissioner Joe Mullins said it could be attributed to “distrust” of government.

But that distrust is being misapplied, Mullins said: Typically, once the federal government takes tax dollars, it’s hard to get them back; in this case, Flagler County is on the receiving end.

“We won,” Mullins said. “We got our tax dollars back, but we’re going to be leaving them on the table. … The money’s here today. … We need to do what we need to get it done.”

The Army Corps, Hadeed said, will now analyze the plans and decide whether the 17 holes in the length of dune will compromise the entire project, or whether the county will get an extension to continue to persuade the property owners and patch those holes.


Liability and responsibility

Flagler Beach City Commissioner Ken Bryan suggested that the holdouts could be held liable for damages.

Three Flagler Beach city commissioners spoke at the meeting: Ken Bryan, Rick Belhumeur and Jane Mealy.

Bryan asked if there was any liability for the holdouts. Hadeed said if there is a storm, and a breach occurs at their property, and that water then floods a neighbor’s home, the insurance company of the affected homeowner could “pursue claims” against the holdout.

Belhumeur said, “We’re in desperate times here. … It’s disheartening.”

Mealy complimented Hadeed. She told the County Commission, “What an amazing human being you have over there. I’ve never seen somebody put so much effort into a project as he has.”

She then said the holdouts were being “totally unfair.” The names of the holdouts were posted on Facebook by Tortugas Florida Kitchen and Bar owner Scott Fox, and many residents tried to join in persuading them to go along with the dune project. “The ones I know about were unable to get anywhere," she said. "Maybe begging is the only word I can come up with right now.”

Two Flagler Beach restaurant owners also spoke: Fox, of Tortugas; and Johnny Lulgjuraj, of Oceanside Beach Bar and Grille.

“I’m here to ask those that are holdouts  … watching on livestream, to please consider what’s at stake here,” Fox said. “Please don’t deprive our generation. … I beg you.”

Oceanside Beach Bar and Grill owner Johnny Lulgjuraj pleaded with holdouts to agree to allow the dune to be built.

Lulgjuraj said he consulted with another attorney in an attempt to understand what reasons holdouts might have for doing so — and he came up with nothing.

“There’s literally no negatives to this,” he said. “That’s why I’m so mind-boggled.” He called the Army Corps funding a “gift from God.”

Hadeed said he would continue to work on contacting and persuading the holdouts. Even during the meeting on June 29 there were two who were working with staff remotely to grant permission for the project.

Showing a video of the dune destruction by previous hurricanes, Hadeed reiterated the necessity of restoring the dunes.

“We have no protection — none,” he said. “We’re naked to the next storm.” Another hurricane like Matthew, and “it’s going to totally, irrevocably, change the character of Flagler County to its detriment, and the recovery from some catastrophe like that is going to be a long time in the making.”

Editor's Note: The number of easements was incorrectly stated as 122 in the original story. The story now has the correct total: 141.

Brian McMillan has been editor of the Palm Coast Observer since it began in 2010. He was named the Journalist of the Year for weekly newspapers in North America by the Local Media Association in 2012. He lives in Palm Coast with his wife and five children. Email...

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