Coastal Volusia County residents can expect an annual nor’easter usually arriving in the month of November. According to the National Weather Service (NWS), a nor’easter is not a hurricane, but can cause billions of dollars in damage, severe economic, transportation and human disruption, and, in some cases, disastrous coastal flooding. Each year, locals observe the high tides and significant erosion that occurs on the beach. Currently, Volusia County has 24.6 miles of coastline designated as “critically eroded” by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP).
Recent significant erosion to area beaches began in 2016 with Hurricane Matthew then continued with Hurricane Irma (2017), Hurricane Dorian (2019) and annual nor’easters. 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.
How is Volusia County handling sea levels rising, storm surge from hurricanes and high tides/erosion from annual nor’easters? In 2017, the county completed the Resilient Volusia plan, a vulnerability assessment that looked at sea level rise (SLR) and storm surge impacts on critical infrastructure on the east side of the county. The East Central Florida Regional Resilience Action Plan (RRAP), including SLR curves, was adopted by the County Council in July 2019. The county also joined the East Central Florida Regional Resilience Collaborative (ECF R2C).
In 2021, Resilient Volusia Phase 2 – Adaptation Action Areas (AAA) was completed, which focused on identifying areas of the unincorporated county impacted by flooding under current and future conditions to increase community resilience and protect infrastructure and personal property. The plan identified areas for AAAs and developed policy language for those areas, provided draft text to strengthen resilience in the comprehensive plan, and developed a checklist and procedures for infrastructure capital improvement projects.
During the county council’s American Rescue Plan Act workshop in July 2021, the county council was 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.
Volusia oceanfront property owners want to know how they can stay proactive about protecting their properties from erosion during storm surge, SLR and erosion. While some property owners are supportive of the beach nourishment feasibility study, some are anxious to start protecting their properties as soon as possible. A study could take many years to complete and the observed coastal impact results could change as time goes on.
Coastal armoring, more commonly known as a seawall, can be considered by property owners. Seawalls can be controversial solutions to drastic conditions. 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. To begin, the FDEP can help with locating the Coastal Construction Control Line (CCCL). The Florida Legislature initiated the CCCL Program to protect the coastal system from improperly sited and designed structures which can destabilize or destroy the beach and dune system.
After considering all options that are available to property owners under state statute, they should then contact their local building departments to determine if a local permit is required. Applicants for seawalls should compile an expert team to not only design and engineer a structure that will offer the protection desired, but a team that will also ensure all appropriate review and considerations are made by the regulating agencies. Finally, some projects may also require a Volusia County Beach and Dune permit.