Wednesday, December 10, 2014

David Wiles' Wisdom on Beach Erosion (St. Augustine Record Comment)

Our public policy sand castles
Although the recognition wasn't great enough to make the Weather Channel or quality for FEMA federal assistance it is possible that the recent unnamed nor'easter could be of value to city (St. Augustine, St. Augustine Beach, Marineland), county (St. Johns) and area governments (inland navigation District) responsible for coastal policies. The biggest obstacle is that 'You Can't Fix Stupid' when it is deliberate public policies, even when emergencies demonstrate the obvious needs for dramatic changes. Here are a few long standing and on-going illustrations:

a) Downtown flooding in St. Augustine: like the lights for the holidays the combination of lunar high tides and NW winds over 20 mph guarantee street flooding. The City rebuilds its seawall but the flooding problem is tied to the ancient sewer system. So seawall costs can be placed with retile-ing the 'Hypoxia' Street, changed downtown parking policies and other aspects of a 'tourist friendly' municipality that does not address the fundamental flooding issue in terms of social into economic costs..

b) houses along A1A north of Vilano Beach. Nor'easter erosion is not just the backyards and walkovers of a handful of houses that should have never been permitted to build on that narrow stretch of beach (have you seen the three lots of sale advertising '75 feet minimum or counted the number of waivers for setback variances granted from Surfside park to Guana state park?). But this is not just the county's problem of granting emergency 'armoring' or demolishing unsafe private property this is also Department of Transportation facing the long standing reality that A1A is being undermined and becoming a danger to travel. We could add the houses and businesses of Summer Haven and south to Marineland along old A1A. The county made them a special municipal district to loan money but the larger nor'easter problem is unresolved for this stretch of 'transient' roadway.

c) Vilano Town Center and pier. No one approves or builds a Town Center right on the coast, particularly on 20 acres that are mostly dredge fill. Despite the wonderful happy face descriptions of Sallie O'Hara and Vivian Browning as Record reporters, despite the county donating a $12 million storm water drainage system to slip around land use requirements to explain water runoff, this particular county investment in Main Street development has continuing 'coastal storm derived' costs. The Navigation District is contributing $300G to help repair the Vilano pier and the county continues to absorb the interest costs on the 30 year bond for Town Center to someday make a profit but this particular part of the St. Johns coastline will not solve its on-going 'sunk' costs due to location. The dog leg bend in A1A to the traffic backup at San Marco is one from of long standing, unresolved problem and the nor'easter storm and beach erosion of Porpoise point another.

d) St. Augustine Beach and sand restoration policies. Yes, the municipality is stuck in several long term contracts to continue to pour dredged sand on its beachfront. Even with the federal dollars from corps of Engineers, the county's Tourist Development(TDC) kicked in $1.2million for the last effort to 'supplement' the area around the pier. Now we have a newly refurbished Guy Harvey resort sitting right where the spin back current from the St. Augustine inlet jetty forces increased sand erosion regardless of periodic nor'easters. The end result is that sand restoration of beaches has done little to actually help stabilize beachfronts but it sure is a welfare like guarantee of revenue stream for contracted 'private sector' dredging companies. At least those that dredge the channels and mouths of the inlets can argue their efforts are for 'boat safety' as a public policy rationale; if St. Augustine Beach city is honest they can only shrug as say 'snowbirds' expect to find sand for their beach vacations.'

Hopefully, this makes the point about what nor'easters ( or possible hurricanes) tell us about the issue of beach erosions and public policy. Anyone who lives anywhere along the St. Johns county coast knows there are equivalent 'can't fix stupid' examples in Ponte Vedra, Crescent Beach, UF Whitney and Marineland, and all in between. The issue is that many know the fundamental problem but no one can/will tackle the actual policy implications of storms and damage.

We do not have to get all hung up on the extent of 'climate change' is creating 'sea level rise' to see that even a *normal* low forming off the coast and creating an 'unnamed nor'easter' can do thousands of dollars in damage to private and public property. We do not have to wait for hurricane evacuation snarls and catastrophic property destruction. Simply four high tides in a two day period and steady winds---not even heavy rains.
I am not an elected official so it is easy to suggest that one step toward partial resolution of perennial stupid is to acknowledge an 'intergovernmental liaison and mutual cooperation' effort to mitigate storm damage to beachfront. St. Johns has an A1A National Byway designation for its 42 miles of coastline to improve scenic beauty and tourism. Why not use the same mentality for organizing but to document public policy possibilities for short term cost savings and long term acknowledgment of on going catastrophes?
Then examine current and on going policy practices and ask if we are contributing to the general problem or moving events toward 'mitigating' fundamental issues? For example, the county land use code specifies development is to be 'minimized' right on the coast, to lessen 'density and intensity.' How can the county commission and staff be thinking of expanding 'transfer development rights' from only 'historic structures' to increase the paper value of all property parcels in Vilano Town Center (and later, using Vilano as precedent, to the entire county)? Like continuing the Tourist Development Committee's investment in sand restoration practices that never last their estimated time, there would be, at a minimum, a clarification of unintended from deliberate stupidity.

1 comment:

Clara Waldhari said...

I've always learned lots from David Wiles and have enjoyed his lengthy posts for years.

Somehow, this man is always correct!

Thanks for posting, Ed.