“Even though we have not had a major storm since before 2005, we still are in a state that is critically eroded. And that’s a particular thing that the state of Florida measures and acknowledges ...”
More than a day after Hurricane Nate made landfall on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, coastal communities up and down Northwest Florida were still waiting to find out how much damage was done to local beaches.
In an area where beach erosion is a major concern, especially after Hurricane Opal removed nearly 800,000 cubic yards of sand from the beach systems in 1995, officials are waiting for the waters to recede to see what, if any, lasting damage the storm surge may have caused to local beaches.
John Trifilio, coastal management coordinator for Okaloosa County, said preliminary evaluations indicate there is “minimal” damage cause by storm damage in the county.
“If you’re seeing anything where there’s a narrowing of the beach, it’s not gone, it’s just not onshore,” Trifilio said. “It’s still available for natural restoration after the storm passes.”
Trifilio said historically, storms such as Opal and Ivan have caused major beach erosion that have depleted local systems.
“Even though we have not had a major storm since before 2005, we still are in a state that is critically eroded,” he said. “And that’s a particular thing that the state of Florida measures and acknowledges and that’s what makes those beaches available for state funding.”
Walton County Beach Maintenance Manager Brian Kellenberger also spoke about how "critically eroded" beaches were a concern during Nate, but overall he believed the county fared well.
“We had some scouring of some portions of the beach, which is where the water got up over the beach and to the bottom of the dunes, but it didn’t cause any dune erosion,” Kellenberger said. “It just took off the top layer of the flat sandy portion of the beach.”
“Our beaches have been critically eroded for several years,” he continued. “So whenever we have any kind of storm event coupled with high tides, the water gets up on the beach and starts hitting the bottom of the dune. This storm didn’t last very long, so we didn’t lose any boardwalks or dune walkovers.”
The three-foot storm surge from Nate pushed shorelines up 30 to 40 feet in some areas of Navarre and Destin.
“I went out this morning on Navarre Beach and it was really hard to tell how much beach erosion we’ve had because the water is still up,” Terry Wallace, utilities supervisor for Santa Rosa county, said Monday. “When the tide recedes, I’ll be able to tell more then, but it didn’t look that bad to me. The water had come up to the berms (dune lines) during the storm.”
In Destin, portions of waterfront city property were still underwater mid-day Monday, according to city manager Carisse LeJeune. She said several beach accesses, Clement Taylor Park and the boat ramp in Joe’s Bayou were in need of repairs after the storm surge brought waters past the normal shoreline.
“We have a lot of city property that is still under water, including Joe’s Bayou, so I know members of the council are very concerned about the beach erosion issue,” LeJeune said. “As soon as the waters recede and we have an opportunity to do assessments, then we will make that information available upon request of the council.”
Erosion was extensive behind the Jetty East condominiums on Holiday Isle in Destin, but that didn’t stop beachgoers from camping out in their beach chairs on the sliver of dry beach even as the high waters approached their toes.
Lynn Krupa, association president of Jetty East, said erosion had been a problem for the area for several years, though a beach renourishment program in 2012 and 2013 helped to protect the beaches from any more severe erosion.
“After the beach renourishment project they did in 2012 and 2013, that built up that berm (dune area) that really serves to protect us,” she said. “It really has done its job … we really need that protection it offers for our outdoor structures.”
She added that she expected the beach behind Jetty East to widen as the storm surge waters receded, but she feared a lot of the sand from their beach was lost for good. She said she would be putting out a plea to city and county officials to donate leftover sand after the upcoming Norriego Point restoration project to eroded Holiday Isle beaches.
“Our sand is out there, it’s probably filling up the East Pass right now,” Krupa said. “And we’d really like to have it back.”