Summer Haven residents battling erosion issues one step closer to resolution after study provides 3 options

A report from a comprehensive engineering study details how St. Johns County is one step closer to finding a potential solution to the ongoing erosion that’s threatening homes in the Summer Haven neighborhood.

The St. Johns County Board of Commissioners approved a Texas-based company called INTERA-GEC to conduct the nearly $400,000 study in April.

The report discusses plans to address ongoing erosion in the Summer Haven area of southern St. Johns County, presenting three options:

Seawall: The 14-foot seawall with pilings 20 feet apart, stretching for 5,500 feet. The construction cost would be $47 million with $12 million for maintenance over 50 years, totaling $59 millionBeach renourishment and dune restoration: This involved raising the beach and dunes to a height of 14 feet over a stretch of 9,000 feet. This project would cost $34 million and $87 million for maintenance over 50 years, making the total $121 million. However, 50% of the dunes would be washed away in five years, so the county would need to do renourishment every five years.Managed Retreat: This option would involve buying out 20 beachside properties at a cost of $3 million.

RELATED: Summer Haven area residents hope new study will lead to solutions that will keep area intact

The county would need to identify and apply for state and federal funding sources and possibly consider “special purpose taxes” to fund the project.

Some residents said the seawall is the best resolution because more sand only means it is going to erode away, and the dunes they currently have in front of their homes are washing away, only lasting weeks at a time.

“I want to stay here,” Sheila Gillikin, a resident, said. “I deserve to stay here just like anyone else.”

A significant breach from the nor’easter last year left Gillikin without access to her home and without power for seven months.

“We’re highly vulnerable and have actually survived with nothing for protection for our homes here,” she said.

She reviewed the report and agreed that building the seawall is the only clear option that will work long-term.

“It will decrease the amount of surge that comes in and that’s where all the damage comes in,” Gillikin said.

Gillikin said she believes that no homeowner would accept the managed retreat option because it’s “grossly underestimated.”

The engineering firm suggested that previous beach fill projects in Summer Haven have failed due to their small scale. To provide long-term protection, the Matanzas Inlet needs to be dredged.

The amount of sand reaching Summer Haven’s beach is decreasing annually, making it more susceptible to breaches. The erosion is also impacting the health of the Summer Haven River, leading to a decline in wildlife and game fish diversity. There are 275 residential and commercial properties affected by the changes to the river.

The report recommends beach and dune renourishment as the most viable alternative, as securing regulatory approval for a seawall may be challenging. Suitable sand sources like offshore sand are needed, as it is more resistant to erosion.

“Putting more sand in front of our homes is not a good option. We’re here, we see it. We see it blow away while they’re putting up and they know it,” Gillikin said.

Residents also want to see the county help rebuild the roads. They’ve had to build these sand roads just to access their homes.

In response to the draft study, Joseph Giammance, director of emergency management for St. Johns County, said, in part,

“The County will hold a public meeting with the report’s authors to allow the public to provide input.  After the public meeting and the final report is complete, the information will be presented to the Board of County Commissioners.  It would not be prudent for the County to elaborate on the draft study that is not complete and without public engagement.”

Read the entire study below:

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