Area beaches to undergo post-storm review

Anthony Judnich
Washington County News

Full assessments of area beaches and dunes, including the millions of dollars worth of sand that bulked up Holiday Isle beaches in Destin earlier this year, will not be made until Hurricane Sally passes, say local officials.

At 11 a.m. Wednesday, the center of the storm was near the Alabama/Florida line and moving north/northeast at 5 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. The crawling Sally could end up being remembered most for the storm surge and flood-producing heavy rain she produced, with some areas receiving well over a foot of precipitation.

“We definitely have beach erosion taking place in the entire county, not just Destin,” Destin Mayor Gary Jarvis said. “Coastal flooding is the major issue in the city’s bays and neighborhoods due to the copious amounts of rain. There’s nowhere for the water to go.”

Curious beachgoers walk along Okaloosa Island on Wednesday as waves from Hurricane Sally pound the beach.

He said Destin Public Works employees have been working on pumping floodwater from various neighborhoods.

One of the beaches in Destin that will be checked on following the storm is the city-owned Shores at Crystal Beach Park, which is at 2966 Scenic Highway 98.

Earlier this month, the Destin City Council approved paying $3.4 million to the nonprofit Trust for Public Land to buy the parcel that contains the Crystal Port Townhomes immediately west of the park. The closing of that transaction, which would mark the first beach land buy in the city’s initiative to provide more public beach property, could occur on Oct. 30.

More:Destin moves closer to owning more public beach, approves Crystal Beach property purchase

Post-storm, Okaloosa County officials plan to fully assess the county beaches on Okaloosa Island, and they also plan to join Destin officials in finding out how the beaches along Holiday Isle in Destin held up.

This past spring, the county helped oversee the completion of an almost $3.5 million project to dredge more than 250,000 cubic yards of East Pass sand and place it across almost half a mile of severly eroded, mostly private beach land on Holiday Isle.

County officials used $2 million in county bed tax money for the overall project, with the remaining cost covered by federal funding. Local officials have often said it’s important to keep the beaches on Holiday Isle in good shape because the properties there generate large portions of bed tax and property tax revenue.

More:East Pass dredging is a ‘win, win’

“A storm like this can move a lot of sand very quickly,” Deputy County Administrator of Operations Craig Coffey said Wednesday about Hurricane Sally. “We’ll have assessment teams out as early as tomorrow morning or afternoon. It depends on how quickly the water recedes.”

He said county staff probably will fly a drone over the beach restoration area on Holiday Isle to help assess eroded areas. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which partnered with the county on the dredging and beach restoration work, also will examine Holiday Isle, Coffey said.

A full assessment of beaches in Walton County also will not be made until surging water recedes enough, county spokesman Louis Svehla said.

“Our code enforcement director says you still can’t tell what the erosion will or will not look like because the water is still all the way up to the dunes,” Svehla said.