Flagler Beach dunes turn into small cliffs as ocean gnaws at sand

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The ocean has carved up the sand in Flagler Beach, creating a steep drop-off north of the pier and also chewing away at the beach in places south of the pier, worrying city officials. 

The Flagler Beach City Commission during an emergency meeting last week decided not to hire an engineer to look into the problem and instead wait for a presentation on Monday about a study on the county’s coastline. The presentation is scheduled for a Flagler County Commission workshop, which starts at 9 a.m. at 1769 E. Moody Blvd., Bunnell.  

The study looks at Flagler County’s entire coastline and focuses on how to approach dune management in the future, including ideas for future projects, according to an email from County Attorney Al Hadeed.  

The Army Corps of Engineers already has plans for a more than $17 million project for dune restoration from South Sixth Street to South 28th Street in Flagler Beach

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The county has been working to acquire easements so the dune restoration project can proceed. Two easements remain, one at 2420 S. Ocean Shore Blvd. and the other at 2538 South Ocean Shore Blvd., both owned by the same person, Hadeed wrote.

Flagler Beach City Manager William Whitson had suggested during the emergency meeting that the city hire the engineering firm of Moffatt & Nichol for $15,000 to review the erosion situation on the beach, which began last month, and coordinate any response with state or federal agencies.  

But the majority of commissioners wanted to wait for the Flagler County Commission presentation before spending money on an engineer. 

Besides the area north of the pier, Whitson said other hard-hit spots were 14th and 15th streets south.   

‘It’s been a long time since we lost this much beach

Flagler Beach Ocean Rescue Director Tom Gillin said in an interview on Friday he has never seen erosion like this. 

“It’s been a long time since we lost this much beach,” Gillin said. 

“It’s always moving. It’s a dynamic environment,” Gillin said. “But I’ve never seen it to this extreme.” 

He said ocean rescue’s big concern was getting ATVs and emergency vehicles to the beach. Lifeguards used to use a ramp of sloping sand near State Road 100 and Ocean Shore Boulevard. But now that’s a drop-off of several feet. 

“We’ve got that little cliff berm up there that’s collapsing,” Gillin said. “Every time the tide comes up, it’s washing more way.” 

The ramp provided the only access for emergency vehicles to the beach between Jungle Hut Road to the north in Flagler County and Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area to the south at 3100 South Ocean Shore Blvd., in Flagler Beach.   

“Our big concern was that was our only way to get emergency vehicles on the beach,” Gillin said. 

The city has improvised by placing a ramp over the last few steps of a walk-over at South Sixth Street that’s just wide enough for ATVs, Gillin said. 

He said normally when there is significant erosion, the culprit is clear with the ocean being stirred up by a hurricane or nor’easter. That’s not the case this time, Gillin said. 

“Why it happened, we are baffled,” Gillin said. 

But he said the sand didn’t go far. There is now a large sandbar about where the city’s pier ends. 

“There’s a gigantic sandbar,” Gillin said. “All the sand got moved from the beach into the water a bit.” 

The erosion also uncovered an old sea-encrusted anchor that had been buried in the sand north of the pier across from Finns. 

“It’s probably been under there for 100 years and nobody knew it,” Gillin said. 

The anchor appeared on Monday; since then, it’s been covered up by 6 or 7 inches of sand, he said. 

‘Down’s not that hard’

Alex Hausburg and Shelley Chapman have lived in Flagler Beach for 20 years and were walking near the pier on Friday morning. They looked at the sand cliff near State Road 100 and said they had never seen such a drop off. 

“We’ve seen it come and go, you know, a few feet at a time, not this extreme,” Hausburg said. 

They said getting down to the beach was not that difficult. 

“Down’s not that hard, but up, you have to walk to where the stairs are,” Hausburg said. 

Chapman said people will just have to wait for nature to take care of the situation but she is also looking forward to the beach replenishment project by the Army Corps of Engineers.  

“I don’t think there’s anything that we can really do,” Chapman said. “I think we just have to let it take its course. Hopefully, we’re on track to get our beach replenished ASAP.”  

Mark Mason, of Flagler Beach, was walking by the sand cliff with a metal detector on Friday morning. 

“No, no, I haven’t found anything yet,” Mason said. “You think I would especially along this line here where the erosion is really bad. That’s probably the best place for me to look.” 

He said he had seen some erosion like this near the St. Augustine pier but it was only a foot or two. 

“So, hopefully the sand comes back,” he said, “but pretty weird.” 

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