It’s been more than a year since the state approved funding for a breakwater project aimed at slowing the erosion of the beaches along Cape San Blas, but according to County Engineer Clayton Smallwood, it may be next year before the project sees any movement.
In the county’s April meeting, Smallwood stated that permitting processes had seen significant delays.
“We’re extending our grant funding so that when those permits do come through we are ready to go,” he said.
But in the meantime, residents along the Cape say the rapid erosion of the beaches has become an emergency.
Dr. Patricia Hardman, president of the Gulf County Coastal Communities Association, has been watching the beaches erode for years now.
“It’s the fastest eroding beach in Florida, could be in the United States,” she said.
Last year, Hardman began speaking out about the issue, believing houses in the area to be vulnerable.
But where the threat to the houses located just north of the rocks has been a constant for upwards of a year, erosion has persisted to the point where now it threatens the road, Hardman said.
Cape San Blas Road is the only major road that runs the length of Cape San Blas and the only means of getting in and out of the area.
“A storm will take the road out,” Hardman said. “I’m still fussing, trying to get them to do something about the road. I’ve been pushing all this week and last week trying to get DOT out there. Now that session is over, I’m hoping to get (State Representative) Jason (Shoaf)’s attention on it. If the road goes, then you can’t get in and out.”
Hardman, along with other members of the CCA, has launched something of a grassroots movement around the beach erosion.
They have emailed officials, spoken at County Commission meetings, written letters and posted to social media, with some posts receiving thousands of engagements.
“There’s a lack of consistent effort to sustain the beach,” said Hardman. “It’s sporadic. And I understand where the (county) is coming from with (not wanting to) throw more money out there without the barriers because any sand out there is going to go.”
“I can tell you that right now. If we put another million dollars’ worth of sand in front of those houses, we’d be lucky if it was still there at Christmas.”
Breakwater structures eyed as long-lasting solution, delayed by permitting
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 any emergency sand measures will be only a temporary solution, and many county officials have voiced reluctance towards spending large sums of money for what they feel may be a lost cause.
“I talk to Clay every week about the sand, and I’ve been out that way, I know those houses are struggling,” said Commissioner Phillip McCroan, who represents Cape San Blas, at the county’s May 23 meeting.
“But until we get some kind of mitigation, putting more sand out there is like dumping money in a hole. You put sand on that south end right now, and it might stay there a month at the most. That sand is going out there faster than you can put it down.”
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, or breakwaters, 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 continued delays in the permitting process make it unlikely any construction will take place before the fall of next year.
Hardman and other concerned residents fear that may be too long to wait.
“We’re going to keep calling and trying to get the ball moving on those breakwaters,” she said, “because it’s not going to make it until next fall.”
“We’ve made some headway with the Army Corps of Engineers, who have pointed us towards the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, but it is still looking like it will be months down the road before anything will get done.”