July 29, 2014

Environment

Oceanfront Showdown

Hurricane-induced beach erosion is sparking debate over waterfront development.

Ken Ibold | 1/1/2005
Last year's unprecedented hurricane season has left central Florida's Atlantic Coast beaches littered with broken sea walls and condemned businesses -- and reopened the debate over the wisdom of barrier island development and beach renourishment.

Recent renourishment projects in Brevard County and planned projects in Volusia came to the forefront after hurricanes Jeanne and Frances shredded the shoreline. Federal lawmakers responded by allocating $127 million to repair Florida beaches that had already been renourished.

In central Florida, that meant taking another look at the Brevard County Shore Protection Project, a 13-mile stretch from Port Canaveral to south of Melbourne that cost U.S. taxpayers $43 million three years ago. In Volusia, it put a new spotlight on a $40-million county plan to beef up the beach.

The issue isn't just the sand, and in most circles it isn't even the cost. Instead, the controversy hinges on property rights, public access and the environmental impact. Renourishment critics say artificially bolstering beaches encourages costly developments that then require more beach maintenance. That's because federal rules governing funding give precedence to densely developed beaches where expensive buildings would be threatened.

The impact can be huge. A renourishment project in the 1980s, for example, helped induce a runup that saw property values increase 500% in two decades. That leads to higher property tax collections as oceanfront areas become more affluent.

Volusia County suffered major beach and dune erosion. Sections of New Smyrna Beach now have no beach at all during high tide, and 15 sea walls protecting buildings crumbled.

In Brevard County, the Brevard County Shore Protection Project was virtually wiped out, leaving the shoreline much as it was before the project began in some places. The restoration area from Indialantic to Melbourne Beach sustained major erosion but only minimal dune damage. South of that area, Brevard beaches sustained more severe erosion.

Proponents of beach renourishment say the post-hurricane profile shows that beach rebuilding works in that the sand wore away but left the buildings, roads and sea walls largely intact.

"Our nourished beaches did their job, sacrificing sand rather than upland buildings and infrastructure," wrote Debbie Flack, director of governmental affairs for the Florida Shore & Beach Preservation Association, in a recent newsletter.

Opponents say spending millions to dump sand on the shore just so it can get washed away proves the folly of dense coastal development. They advocate leaving barrier islands as natural breaks, able to erode and accrete without human intervention.

Tags: Space Coast

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