By Dale Martin
October 1, 2020
Last year, the City received report regarding the structural condition of the roughly two dozen beach access “walkovers” (the elevated wooden structures that traverse the Atlantic Ocean dunes and provide easier access to the beach). As a result of that engineering report, several of the walkovers were temporarily closed and repaired or, in the worst cases, removed.
The City sought state funding for rebuilding several of the walkovers, but only a small amount of funding was received through a Coastal Partnership Initiative grant (approximately $70,000). A much larger funding request for $500,000 was vetoed by Governor DeSantis during the budget process this year, in part due to the state response to the pandemic. The City Commission may consider another such request in next year’s state budget, but the City’s highest requested priority for state funding is related to the rehabilitation effort of the Peck Center, a valued historically significant structure.
The United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) also provided an engineering report related to the role and value of the dune system for protection against significant coastal weather events. This formal acknowledgement by the USACE, as well as other previous reports, provide the foundation for the strong effort to protect and enhance the Amelia Island dune system.
The USACE report further acknowledged that walkovers are a desired tool for dune protection: the implementation and use of walkovers prevents damage to the dunes due to foot traffic through the dunes. The USACE also acknowledges that walkovers are expensive: to fully protect the critical portion of the dunes, a walkover must extend over and past the dune closest to the ocean. In most instances associated with City beach accesses, this would require walkovers measuring several hundred feet, becoming cost prohibitive.
Based upon the high costs, the USACE report indicates that “walkthroughs” (footpaths) are an acceptable secondary consideration, as long as the number of walkthroughs are kept to a minimal and designed and managed in an appropriate manner: clearly delineated to prevent expansion of the paths into dune vegetation and crossing the dune in such a way so as to reduce the impact of coastal weather (high seas, storm surge).
How the City remediates and develops its beach accesses has been a subject of discussion by the City Commission: what walkovers are rebuilt and in what order or fashion; what walkthroughs should be enhanced or, in some cases, eliminated (more specifically, “informal” walkthroughs not associated with official City beach access points); what is the cost and possible funding source?
To develop a Beach Access Plan to address those concerns, I requested that the City’s Planning Advisory Board (PAB) recommend one of its members to chair a Beach Access Committee. The rationale for asking the PAB was that beach access is a component of the City’s Comprehensive Plan which is directly tied to the work of the PAB. Ms. Victoria Robas, a S. Fletcher Avenue city resident, has offered to lead this new committee.
Ms. Robas will have several city staff to support the efforts of the committee. Staff participation will be headed by the newly appointed City Engineer, Mr. Charles George, who has extensive experience with coastal projects. Mr. George is scheduled to official join the City staff at the end of October. Additional City staff participating will be Ms. Lorelei Jacobs, the City’s Grants Administrator, and Mr. Joe Pitcheralle, City Parks Superintendent.
It is expected that several residents with interest in beach access will be appointed to the committee. If you are interested in serving on this committee, please visit the City Clerk’s page of the City’s website and complete a Board/Committee Member Application. Prospective committee members will be considered throughout the month of October, with meetings (yet to be scheduled) likely to begin in November.
The goal of the Beach Access Committee is to provide a recommendation to the City Commission in early April regarding the redevelopment, sequencing, and funding for walkovers and walkthroughs.
Thank you to Ms. Robas for her interest and willingness to lead this effort and thank you, in advance, for other residents interested in serving, as well. I look forward to following the efforts of the group.