East Coast Current

Impacts of Hurricane Ian: Demolished Sea Walls and Intense Dune Erosion

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On September 29, 2022, Hurricane Ian’s path swept through Volusia County. The county has reported coastal damage is worse than Hurricane Matthew (2016). Recent significant erosion to Volusia beaches began with Hurricane Matthew then continued with Hurricane Irma (2017), Hurricane Dorian (2019) and annual nor’easters. The county is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to assess repairs. 

There are 140 county walkovers and so far, 90 of them are damaged or destroyed completely. The county released a beach safety video on social media platforms, including NextDoor, warning residents and visitors to “avoid all structures at the beach.” Many have been compromised and could collapse without warning. Some oceanfront homeowners and businesses are left with destroyed seawalls, collapsed pool decks, demolished beach walkways and intense dune erosion. 

The county was not expecting the widespread damage during Hurricane Ian because it was not a direct hit. According to a published statement by Ben Bartlett, director of County Public Works, the wind caused the surf to come up at a perfect angle and started washing out seawalls. The FDEP is in charge of all the permitting associated with beach repairs including seawalls. 

On October 19, 2022 at the Daytona Beach Shores Community Center, the county met with the FDEP and oceanfront property owners interested in filing for temporary and permanent sea wall permits. Temporary permits can be granted by the FDEP after a significant storm to assist recovery efforts of beachfront property owners. Permitting for permanent coastal armoring is frustrating, lengthy and must be guided. 

According to FloridaDEP.gov, “post-storm procedures expedite permitting seaward of the Coastal Construction Control Line (CCCL) for emergency repairs and relief measures like bringing in beach-compatible sand for dune restoration, placing sandbags, shoring-up or reinforcing the foundations of threatened buildings, or installing temporary coastal armoring. Emergency procedures are activated by the Governor’s Declaration of Emergency and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (FDEP) issuance of an Emergency Final Order.” 

Damage to the coast is measured by three important storm considerations: duration, direction and intensity. Volusia’s powdery white sand beaches and longshore current create a natural sand storing system 50 to 100 yards out. Erosion can be expected each winter, then during the summer, moves back and rebuilds itself. Sand dunes provide natural coastal protection against storm surge and high waves. Dunes adapt naturally to wind and water in a way that disperses energy and protects the coastline. 

The county council is supportive of pursuing a Beach Nourishment Feasibility Study in partnership with the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Beach nourishment is the adding of sediment onto or directly adjacent to an eroding beach. This “soft structural” response allows sand to shift and move with waves and currents. Dune restoration is commonly carried out during a beach nourishment project as well.

While some property owners are supportive of the beach nourishment feasibility study, some are anxious to start protecting their properties as soon as possible using coastal armoring such as a seawall. A study could take many years to complete and the observed coastal impact results could change as time goes on. 

Seawalls can be controversial solutions. Opinions vary on the effectiveness of seawalls, their visual impacts to the beach, impacts to public access, their impacts to non-armored adjacent properties and impacts to beloved marine turtles.

Pictured: ​​City Manager Kurt Swartzlander, Public Safety Director Michael Fowler and Public Safety Lieutenant Medders tour the battered beachfront properties in October with State and Federal representatives to further assess the damage and to discuss possible temporary solutions until property owners are able to construct a permanent fix. Photo by City of Daytona Beach Shores

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