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Beach erosion from Hurricane Matthew to cost county $29 million

Palm Beach County may have avoided the worst bite of Hurricane Matthew, but the Category 4 storm that skirted just off the coast on Oct. 6 still took some healthy nips at our beaches that officials say will cost $29 million to repair.

The worst erosion scars are exposed limestone at the beach at the Jupiter Civic Center and Coral Cove Park, but even south county, which felt the least effects of the storm, still had beach damage.

“The beach did its job. It protected the walkovers, roads, buildings and the dunes. Overall in the county there was moderate erosion,” said Dan Bates, the deputy director of the county’s Department of Environmental Resources Management.

The worst erosion was from Singer Island north to Coral Cove Park in Tequesta, which will cost about $13 million to repair. More erosion was in Palm Beach, Delray Beach and Boca Raton, said Bates. Those will cost $15.7 million to fix.

Because of natural erosion, the county spent $5 million one year ago to help replace 240,000 tons of sand on the beach on both sides of the Civic Center, said Bates.

The county hopes to start to replace the sand lost to Hurricane Matthew after November (work must be done between Nov. 1 and Feb. 28 to protect nesting sea turtles). The county spends about $13 million annually on keeeping up county beaches, said Bates.

Sand-toting trucks, like the ones seen up and down Indiantown Road last year for that repair project, would be used again in Jupiter. A dredge likely will be used to combine work on the projects in Delray Beach and Boca Raton.

While dredging sand costs about half as much as trucking, the upfront costs of hiring a dredge boat are high, said Bates. That’s why they’ll use one to combine the two south county projects.

“Just getting a dredge to show up costs $4 million. Then there are the costs for piping in the sand, auxiliary vehicles. It’s a huge investment,” said Bates.

Lifeguards, residents and business people along north county beaches agreed the erosion damage was not major.

Erosion was not extensive directly north of the Juno Beach Fishing Pier, said Palm Beach County Lifeguard Josh Davis. Pointing to the dunes held in place by sea oats that protect A1A, he said the combination of continuing surges from recent king tides and big waves from Matthew are creating a constantly changing dynamic to the north county shoreline.

“Erosion at one beach is a gain at another beach,” said Davis.

That’s what happened at the Jupiter Reef Club, a resort hotel on the east side of A1A south of Indiantown Road.

Standing on the seawall facing the ocean recently, Resort Manager Hanson Ackerman said the sand in front of the wall was about three feet higher than before the storm. Yet rocks that were buried in sand in front of the dunes south of the resort were now exposed. Scarps — drop-offs in the sand — were about four feet tall right up to the dunes north of the resort.

“Hurricane Sandy was much worse. This seems more like a natural ebb and flow to the sand,” said Akerman, referring to the 2012 storm that caused major damage to the county’s beaches.

At the Jupiter Civic Center recently, people walked on the exposed limestone and snapped photos as waves splashed onto the wooden steps leading down to the sand.

Kathleen Paluga, who grew up in West Palm Beach and has been coming to Jupiter beaches since she was a child, said the erosion was the worst she has ever seen in north county.

“This looks like Blowing Rocks Preserve (in Hobe Sound). Why are they going to spend all that money bringing in new sand? It’s just going to wash out again. They should build groins (walls built perpendicular to beaches to trap shifting sand). And artificial reefs. That would hold in the sand,” she said.

Bates countered that new sand — called renourishment in the beach-fixing biz — is the most efficient way to protect the $6 billion in Palm Beach County oceanfront real estate.

Beach renourishment protects one of the county’s greatest economic engines — tourism. The process also protects nesting sea turtles. And the beaches keep open A1A, an evacuation route during hurricanes and other emergencies, said Bates.

“Beaches are part of our urban infrastructure,” said Bates.

So who will pay the $29 million?

County officials will first knock on the door of the federal government. They expect the Federal Emergency Management Agency and/or the Army Corp of Engineers to pick up about 80-95 percent of the tab.

If that doesn’t happen, Bates’ Department of Environmental Resources Management goes to the state. Then the county. Then down the economic food chain to local agencies such as the Jupiter Inlet District and town of Jupiter.

North county leaders aren’t happy to hear that. Jupiter chipped in $72,000 last year for beach renourishment. The Jupiter Inlet District chipped in about $100,000 in 2011.

“We’re not going to say ‘no’ to the beach. But other agencies also have to be considered,” said Jupiter Mayor Todd Wodraska.

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