by Bob Snell
Updated 5 yearss ago
The rocks have returned to St. Augustine Beach. Just two years after the Army Corps of Engineers spread 1.34 million cubic yards of sand along this 2.5-mile stretch of northeast Florida coastline, Hurricane Frances washed much of it away. Damage to the $17-million project is most noticeable near the city's ocean pier, where wind-driven surf carved a seven-foot wall of sand into the once gently sloping shore.
The newly exposed rocks (a hazard to swimmers) reflect the transient nature of beach renourishment and the power of giant storms to reshape the coastline in St. Augustine Beach and across the state.
"The beach was supposed to last five years," says St. Augustine Beach resident Christopher Shanley. "Frances changed that in a matter of hours."
Coastal engineers from the Department of Environmental Protection are assessing the damage done by the hurricanes. Teams from DEP and the U.S. Geological Survey are photographing hundreds of miles of shoreline from the air, comparing thousands of before-and-after photos to evaluate the extent of damage. Officials will pay particular attention to the 40 or so beaches that have been renourished under state supervision. Other erosion-control efforts -- such as the renourishment of St. Augustine Beach and Jacksonville Beach -- are the provenance of the Army Corps, which is conducting its own survey.
If the damage to southwest Florida beaches is an indication, it will take years and tons of offshore sand to restore some of the state's most popular beaches.
In the only comprehensive post-hurricane study released so far, a DEP team documented extensive erosion to beaches along North Captiva and Estero islands, where "the shoreline receded 150 to 200 feet immediately south of the Fort Myers Beach Pier." The report recommends the state make an emergency appeal to the Army Corps for federal beach renourishment funds.
On the Atlantic coast, anecdotal evidence shows Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne caused extensive erosion in St. Lucie, Martin and Indian River counties. "It's 50 years of erosion overnight," Indian River County environmental analyst Jonathan Gorham told the Stuart News.
In northwest Florida, officials say the enormous storm surge that accompanied Hurricane Ivan likely caused unprecedented damage to the region's numerous barrier beaches.
In northeast Florida, St. Augustine Beach officials recall it took years and intense congressional lobbying to secure their renourishment money in '02. Now with dozens of coastal cities and counties across the state looking to restore their coastlines, it appears the rocks will be a St. Augustine Beach fixture for the foreseeable future.