DEP issues emergency order to protect coastal properties from future hurricanes

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The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently issued an emergency order that will expedite the process for seawall eligibility and waive associated fees, enabling certain coastal residents of St. Johns County to protect their property from future hurricanes. But, there’s an Oct. 4 deadline for residents to submit applications for review.

Howard White, St. Johns County’s chief building official, explained that the DEP’s emergency order will help coastal homeowners from the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club to Vilano Beach by making both “conforming” and “nonconforming” homes eligible for both temporary and permanent seawalls. White said the DEP had a standing rule for years that prohibited conforming homes (any home built with newer building codes) from receiving temporary or permanent armoring because they can withstand hurricanes and beach erosion.

“The only eligible homes were nonconforming homes,” White added. “They were the homes that weren’t built to the newer construction standards, and erosion would have a deleterious effect on them standing where they were.”

In response to Irma, the chief building official issued temporary armoring permits to nonconforming and conforming homes. According to White, the DEP added to that philosophy by announcing through the department’s emergency order that conforming and nonconforming homes can receive both temporary and permanent armoring.

However, applicants must submit their paper work by Oct. 4.

“I’m going to throw a caveat out there and a disclaimer that something may change or I may not have it exactly correct,” White prefaced regarding the deadline. “As I understand the Oct. 4 deadline, that is a deadline for applicants to get their permit packages submitted to DEP for review, and that review would be expedited.”

The DEP’s emergency authorization document states that the final order takes effect “immediately upon execution by the Secretary of the Department” and will expire Oct. 4 “unless modified or extended by further order.”

 

Reaction from a resident

John Clegg, a Ponte Vedra Beach resident, is aware of the Oct. 4 deadline, but he’s most concerned with the possibility of immediate flooding due to Hurricane Irma’s impact on the coastline.

“I’ve been living on the oceanfront for 19 years, and the erosion is ongoing,” he said in an interview with the Recorder. “Basically what’s happened is the beach is significantly flattened as a result of the two hurricanes in quick succession...Sand that was previously at the top of the beach at the top of the dunes has been washed down and basically flattened the beach.”

According to Clegg, heavily eroded, flat beaches could lead to catastrophic flooding because storm surge can send water toward “extremely vulnerable” homes in low-lying areas. As a result, the Ponte Vedra Beach resident believes local government should be doing more to address the problem.

“Just look at how proactive Duval County and Dade County have been,” he said. “They’ve been incredibly proactive for many years in taking steps to armor the beach.”

Clegg asserted that coastal armoring would be “tremendously effective” but the most prohibitive “in terms of expense.” He suggested that officials should consider a shore restoration project, a process commonly known as “scraping,” to restore the original gradient of the beach and fix its flat configuration.

The Recorder will continue to monitor updates on the county’s beach restoration initiatives. For more information on coastal armoring, call St. Johns County Building Services at (904) 827-6800.

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