Each month, the county hopes to restore one mile of about 11 miles of dune damage from storms over the last few years.
After over a year of struggling to receive government funding, the Flagler County dunes restoration project is finally underway.
“If you asked me 15 months ago would we be doing a massive dune project — multi-million dollars? I would have probably laughed at you and thought that was a good joke,” Flagler County Administrator Craig Coffey said. “Since then, we’ve had Matthew, we’ve had Irma, we’ve had nor'easters, and we’ve had a lot of challenges. Today, we’re cutting down trees in the right of way, we’re repairing roads, and, believe it or not, we’re building dunes.”
The $25-million project officially launched on Monday, Jan. 22, but was celebrated with a groundbreaking ceremony on Saturday, Jan. 27, at MalaCompra Park. Flagler County Commissioners Charles Ericksen Jr., Greg Hansen, David Sullivan, Nate McLaughlin and Donald O'Brien Jr. were present, as well as County Administrator Craig Coffey, County Engineer Faith Alkhatib, Flagler Beach City Commissioner Rick Belhumeur, Florida Sen. Travis Hutson and Florida Rep. Paul Renner.
The initial project will run from Washington Oaks State Park southward to Bay Drive Park. The next scheduled segment will be the remainder of Washington Oaks State Park and then the segment between Bay Drive Park and MalaCompra Road.
Hansen said the county plans to repair about 11 miles of dunes, with six to 10 cubic yards of sand for every foot of beach, depending on how much needs repaired. More than 750,000 tons of sand is planned to be used for all projects total, according to a press release.
Alkhatib said she plans to walk along the beaches once a day or every other day to check on the progress herself.
“This is really a very nice time to see it come through,” she said. “We are in the construction phase. I’m so excited. And the special thing about it is we’re doing it in-house.”
County employees will work to repair the dunes, with the goal of averaging one mile of repairs per month, said Flagler County Public Information Officer Julie Murphy.
“The government does not work fast, but we do work hard, that’s for sure,” Sen. Hutson said. “I can tell you every one of your commissioners called me and Representative Renner probably once every two weeks regarding this money to try and get it here to protect these citizens for the next storm that’s coming. That’s what this is: this is protection.”
Hansen said that beach access mats will be installed at public parks and roads that end at the beach to allow access for guests and residents while still preventing damage to the dunes.
“Our beaches are so critical — and the dunes — are so critical to protecting the homes and businesses in our community, many of which have been tittering in terms of structural integrity because of the storms,” Rep. Renner said. “And so, while the federal government is still taking its time to get money to us after Matthew and Irma, Sen. Hutson and I were successful in getting over $15 million specifically just for this area, to match the local efforts.”
Palm Coast resident Pete Healey has been patiently waiting for the dunes to return to normal at the beach he frequents near MalaCompra Park. He attended the ground-breaking ceremony to hear about the county’s plans for restoration.
“It’s like everything else — it takes time,” Healey said.