Jupiter Island, a well-heeled seaside enclave where home values average $4.97 million, was awarded $8.6 million in federal emergency money for beach re-nourishment following a beating by 2016’s Hurricane Matthew.
The town, whose celebrity residents include golfer Tiger Woods, applied for the money as part of FEMA’s Public Assistance Grant Program, which reimburses communities for repairs to public facilities, debris removal and emergency support in relation to incidents such as hurricanes.
It is one of 10 beach restoration projects submitted to FEMA by Florida counties and municipalities after Matthew, but so far is the highest reimbursement approved.
While paying for an affluent community to replace sand with emergency money may raise eyebrows, FEMA officials said the award is based on project eligibility — not community wherewithal — and that beach repairs are common payouts.
“We send teams out to evaluate all of the projects, whether it’s a city hall, wastewater treatment plant or beach,” said Mary Hudak, a spokesperson for FEMA’s southeast region. “We determine eligibility and the state is responsible for helping us identify eligible applicants with eligible damage.”
A FEMA press release issued last month notes that the $8.6 million, which is sent to the state for distribution, is part of a total project cost to repair the beach and replace lost sand that is estimated at $11.5 million. The remaining money will not come from federal sources, the release says.
Jupiter Island’s 499 single-family homes have a total taxable value of $2.1 billion, according to the Martin County Property Appraiser.
Under the federal public assistance program, beach restoration is eligible for reimbursement if it is an “engineered” beach that is regularly maintained by the community. Engineered can mean the beach was constructed with imported sand in a size and way to mitigate beach loss.
John Duchock, Jupiter Island’s beach district director, said town beaches lost about 687,000 cubic yards of sand during Hurricane Matthew. An estimated 400,000 cubic yards was lost during last September’s Hurricane Irma above the Hurricane Matthew loses.
“To put these numbers in perspective, the town most recently placed roughly 1.7 million cubic yards of sand along 6 to 7 miles of shoreline in 2016,” Duchock said. “Since 1973, the town has placed over 17 million cubic yards of sand along its beaches to offset the impacts of storms and the down-drift erosion impacts of the St. Lucie Inlet.”
The town has been paying for beach nourishment projects since the early 1970s, and has its own taxing district for beach restoration, Duchock said.
The 7-mile sliver of beach managed by Jupiter Island has three public beach accesses with more than 240 public parking spots including at the Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge, 110 spaces at a Martin County-owned lot where Bridge Road dead ends, and about 20 spaces at Blowing Rocks Preserve.
“Combined, the three existing public beach parks provide access to most of the island’s beaches,” Duchock said.
Martin County is one of 18 in Florida, including Palm Beach, that received a presidential declaration allowing for FEMA public assistance because of the extent of damages caused by Hurricane Matthew.
FEMA has obligated more than $233 million for Florida beach projects under the program after Hurricane Matthew. That includes about $3.8 million for dune repair in Jacksonville and $1.9 million for sand loss at Hillsboro Beach in Broward County. The remaining seven beach-related projects are under review.
Michael Stahl, deputy director for Palm Beach County’s Department of Environmental Resources Management, said county beaches did not sustain significant damage during Matthew and didn’t ask for FEMA assistance.
While about 1.6 million cubic yards of sand was lost during Matthew, Stahl said it collected on a near-shore sand bar and was pushed back onto the beach in the month following the hurricane.
“This natural recovery process is typical after an erosive event,” he said.
Hudak said FEMA only reimburses 75 percent of the project costs. The delay – Hurricane Matthew made landfall in South Carolina Oct. 8, 2016 – is partly because the projects must be completed and work documented before reimbursements are awarded.
“It’s not singular or unusual for us to fund a beach project,” Hudak said. “As long as there is access to the public, and the public can use the beach, it’s a public assistance project.”