Water laps at Sunrise Sunset's seawall even when tides are relatively low. [ WENDY WEITZEL | THE STAR ]
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Community, county discuss potential solutions for persistent beach erosion

The erosion along beaches north of the rocks on Cape San Blas was deemed by residents to be an emergency last summer.

Now, Coastal Communities Association President Pat Hardman said, the homes along that stretch of beach are in “imminent danger.”

“If anybody’s been out to the cape, the erosion past sunrise sunset, you’ve got homes in imminent danger coming down,” she said. “We’ll be lucky if a number of them don’t go down in the winter storms here.”

Hardman took these concerns to the Board of County Commissioners at their most recent regular meeting on Jan. 24.

There, she asked the commissioners to consider looking into emergency funding sources to replenish the sand along these stretches.

“Before Senator (Loranne) Ausley left office, she was working with both DOE and DOT to get some emergency funding and emergency sand in there to protect those,” Hardman said about the region’s previous state senator, who lost her seat in the November general election. 

“But obviously when you leave office, those things come to a halt. I would request that the county maybe see if they can reinstate some of that.”

In late June of last year, the county applied for state local support grant funding they hoped to put towards supplying emergency sand to rapidly eroding beaches on the cape.

They were denied that funding in September.

But, county employees said at last month’s meeting that they had requested funding from other pots as well.

“MRD responded to the second request for information from the state, and the state reviewed it and came back with another request, and they’re working on some more,”said County Engineer Clayton Smallwood about the company behind the county’s recent berm restoration project.

“We also applied for 4.8 million in sand loss from Hurricane Sally. FEMA shot down our first attempt, so we sent in our appeal letter to them this week,” he added later in the meeting.

But any emergency sand measures will be only a temporary solution.

Berm Project provides hope for slowing erosion

The dunes have eroded from underneath this Cape San Blas home’s walkover.
Cape San Blas’s beaches are the fastest eroding in the state.

It has a lot to do with the direction of the tides, which sweep the sand from the cape’s beaches into the St. Joseph Bay, where it tends to collect.

But according to County Commissioner Philip McCroan, the pace of the beach erosion, which has always been a fact of Cape San Blas life, has picked up significantly in the years since Hurricane Michael.

“I think it has gotten worse since the hurricane,” he told Hardman at the Jan. 24 meeting.  “But we will reach out and try to find anything we can that’s available. I know Clay is looking for it all the time.” 

But, McCroan emphasized, any sand replenishment efforts will represent only a temporary solution to the problem.

For a decade, the county has been working with state legislators to build momentum for a coastal structures project they say has the potential to slow the erosion of the cape’s beaches by up to 40 percent.

The project, which consists of the construction of barrier reefs, aims to redirect some of the currents that contribute to the erosion of the cape’s beaches, slowing the overall process.

The county received almost all of the required funding for the project when Gov. Ron DeSantis awarded them $15.5 million in March of last year.

But Smallwood said that permitting processes have been taking longer than expected. In June of 2022, he told The Star that it was unlikely construction would begin on the project before the fall of this year.

“The ultimate fix is the erosion control,” McCroan said on Jan. 24. “… We know we’re never going to stop it, or even slow it down, until it’s done. But where it’s at now, (adding sand) is like dumping money in a hole.”

“I know, but what other option do we have?” Hardman responded.