Jacksonville District inspection teams assess Tropical Storm Nicole impacts to Florida Atlantic beaches
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Nov. 18, 2022) – When Tropical Storm Nicole came ashore over Florida Nov. 9, it exacerbated beach erosion and surge damage from Hurricane Ian that had pummeled the peninsula in late September, leaving a wake of destruction widely estimated to total $50 billion or more.
USACE Jacksonville District coastal project teams responded within days and have been in response mode ever since.
Nine of the 28 beaches under management through the district’s coastal storm risk management (CSRM) program were already in poor condition due to impacts from Ian, said Trisston Brown, head of the district’s coastal navigation section. Seven of the nine are on Florida’s Atlantic coast, stretching from Fernandina Beach in the north to Miami Beach in the south.
Over the Veterans Day weekend, Jacksonville staff organized inspection teams, prepared the necessary funding and logistics, and cut orders for teams to move out on Monday, Nov. 14.
Five teams were dispatched to inspect the post-Nicole status of CSRM projects in Nassau, Duval, St. Johns, Brevard, St. Lucie, Martin, Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade Counties. A sixth was detailed in response to a FEMA mission assignment to support inspection activities in Flagler and Volusia Counties, and a seventh was made ready to deploy to the Gulf Coast to inspect beach projects there.
On the northernmost Atlantic beaches of Nassau and Duval counties, a Jacksonville trio consisting of geologist Rob Carroll and coastal engineers Gabe Todaro and Nikole Ward inspected dune conditions and estimated sand loss at a dozen locations as they moved southward along the coast that Monday.
They were joined at Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park in Jacksonville by Kaylee Rose, an environmental specialist with Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), a major agency partner in coordinating permitting for USACE shore protection projects. Rose is FDEP’s manager for projects in northeast Florida; on her cell phone she carried an archive of beach photos taken during previous inspections. Comparing those earlier photos to current conditions were helpful assessing the storm’s impact at each location.
“It definitely was affected, there definitely was dune loss,” Rose said.
“A lot of sand has been pulled off the beach,” said Todaro. “There’s a lot of erosion in the dune, but a lot of that sand is now in the sandbar. So, it’s there in the beach system, and that is how it’s supposed to perform.”
Recovery, the return of eroded material to the beach after the shock of storm surge and high winds, takes place over an extended period of time, said Ward, who holds a doctorate in coastal and oceanographic engineering from the University of Florida.
“Some of it does come back to stabilize the beach, but it’s an incremental, long-term process. It takes longer periods of time, so that you can’t measure it in weeks or months.
“Typically, summer months are calmer and allow for sand to transport toward the beach, which is part of the recovery process. Unfortunately, that’s the portion that takes multiple years, even decades to occur, which is why beach nourishment and renourishment is necessary to protect the shoreline and the communities around it,” she said.
As the team moved along the beach, they measured dune heights and distances to the high tide level at each location to calculate an estimated sand loss. Carroll measured berm to water distances with a surveyor’s wheel while Ward captured photos of present conditions for later assessment and future comparison.
Todaro said the dunes farther north in Nassau County had been mostly intact, with little sand loss compared to the Duval stretch of coastline. A general consensus among the inspection team was that the farther south one ventured, the closer to the storm’s path, the greater the impacts would be.
The quartet were scheduled to head that way to complete their segment of the inspection mission the following day at CSRM projects in St. Johns County.
On that Monday, as its teams began field inspections, Jacksonville District delivered instruction letters to the nonfederal sponsors of its affected projects, outlining the process for requesting emergency federal assistance to conduct rehabilitation efforts along the damaged coastline, a process with which many of them are all too familiar from previous hurricane and tropical storm events.
Nonfederal authorities are to submit their requests to Jacksonville District by Dec. 11, 2022, for review. The district will review the reports generated from the beach inspections to determine which projects meet the criteria for federal assistance. Approved projects will be sent forward in a process resulting in 100 percent federal funding for rehabilitation.
On Wednesday the 16th, Jacksonville teams completed another six inspections, including all Gulf Coast projects. All federal CSRM inspections were on track for completion by that Friday, the 18th. The only district team still operating in the field was one tasked by FEMA for inspection support in Volusia and Flagler Cos., where there are no existing federal projects.
(The public can obtain news, updates and information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District on the district’s website at https://www.saj.usace.army.mil/, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/JacksonvilleDistrict and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/JaxStrong.