Three options involve adding a buried seawall, three involve shifting at least one direction of traffic onto another road, and one leaves the roadway largely as it is.
The several hundred locals perusing the Florida Department of Transportation's proposals for permanent post-Hurricane Matthew State Road A1A repairs at an open-house meeting Dec. 15 had a lot to think about: Should the roadway be shifted further west, as one proposal suggested, with a buried seawall added? Should its traffic instead be diverted at least in part onto other roads, like Central Avenue and Daytona Avenue? Or should the whole thing be left largely as it is?
Three of the six FDOT proposals unveiled at the meeting involved adding a buried seawall, or retaining wall, which would be at odds with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' long-standing plan to shore up the road by adding sand to extend the dune every 11 years. Because seawalls increase erosion and would make more frequent sand applications necessary — about every five years, instead of every 11 — the Army Corps has said it won't undertake such a beach renourishment project if the state adds a seawall.
Meanwhile, residents at the meeting said they feared losing their beach and the tourism it attracts if the state adds a seawall but doesn't renourish it, leaving the beach to erode away.
"I want the beach back the way it was, no seawall — unless they can do both," said Sharon Andre, a 60-year-old South Flagler Avenue resident and a resident of Flagler Beach since 1973. "The citizens of Flagler Beach just want our beach back, and now we have to deal with the Army Corps of Engineers and Florida Department of Transportation ... and all of these other agencies. With all of those departments, don't you think we could get a beach?"
The stretch of roadway at issue is about 5.2 miles, stretching from just south of Osprey Drive to just south of South 28th Street.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who supports beach renourishment over the seawall option, also recently announced that the U.S. Senate approved $31.6 million for beach renourishment in Flagler County.
Ron Meade, FDOT operations engineer for the DeLand region, summarized the various proposals presented during the meeting: The first leaves A1A where it is but adds a buried seawall to protect it (construction cost: $145.5 million). The second shifts the roadway about 12 feet inland, and also adds a buried seawall in front of it ($172.2 million). The third relocates A1A to Central Avenue, leaving the current A1A to become something other than a state road — possibly a bicycle path or walking path ($24.3 million). The fourth shifts A1A about 20 feet west with a buried seawall, and makes it northbound-only, placing the southbound traffic on Central Avenue ($222.5 million). The fifth eliminates A1A as a state road, moving its northbound traffic onto Central Avenue, and its southbound traffic onto Daytona Avenue ($38 million). As in the third option, the current A1A roadway would become something like a cycling path or walkway. A sixth "do nothing" option would return A1A to its pre-Hurricane Matthew condition ($10.1 million).
"Options 3 and up are shifting traffic to our city streets, and they are not options," Flagler Beach City Commissioner Rick Belhumeur said. "A1A, as it was, drew a lot of people to this town." Option 1 — leaving the road where it is, but adding a buried seawall in front of it — doesn't look bad in FDOT's rendering, he said. But what happens when the sand is washed away, and the Army Corps won't replenish it? FDOT has not laid out a plan for replacing the washed-away sand.
"In my mind, it's option six: Do nothing. ... Give the Army Corps a chance," Belheumer said. "I don't know if we can trust FDOT to replenish that sand if it gets washed away in front of the seawall. Nobody wants an exposed seawall."
Several residents asked whether current areas of exposed seawall were originally buried, like the proposals FDOT presented at the meeting. FDOT officials said those sections were not created as buried seawalls, although sand has sometimes washed over and covered them.
FDOT Project Development Manager Amy Sirmans said that over the course of the four-hour meeting, a number of residents said they didn't want to see A1A' s traffic moved to Central Avenue or Daytona Avenue — shutting down A1A would leave some residents without access to their driveways — and many raised questions about how FDOT's proposals would affect the proposed Army Corps project.
County Engineer Faith Alkhatib said the county likely wouldn't support an FDOT plan to add a buried seawall unless FDOT committed to renourishing the beach to mitigate erosion and keep the wall covered.
Some residents supported a seawall, though preferring that it stay covered. Flagler Beach resident Renny Roker's perspective on the A1A proposals was informed by his years in the Caribbean, where he saw the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. He pointed out that an A1A destabilized by lack of a seawall could become a hazard.
"Do you want to sacrifice someone's life, or do you want to shovel a few pounds of dirt?"
RENNY ROKER, Flagler Beach resident who favors a seawall because he feels it would be safer
With a wall, Roker said, "Yes, the sand might wash away, but you can always fill it in. Do you want to sacrifice someone's life, or do you want to shovel a few pounds of dirt?"
FDOT Director of Transportation and Development Frank O'Dea said FDOT knows local residents don't want to lose their beach or have a seawall that's exposed, and that the agency would consider plans to pay for renourishment, likely through a partnership involving multiple government entities.
FDOT's next step is to compile the public comments submitted during the Dec. 15 meeting, consult with other agencies and officials and formulate a more concrete plan to submit to FDOT's leadership in early 2017, said FDOT spokesman Steve Olson.
"Basically, it's going to come down to crunching numbers, seeing what's feasible, and what the public wants," Olson said.
To see FDOT's documents on the S.R. A1A proposals, go to cflroads.com/project/440557-1/SR_A1A_Long-Term_Improvements_Feasability_Study.