First coast news


October 11, 2016


Could a change in sea wall permitting have saved beach homes from Hurricane Mathew?


Kenneth Amaro



PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla.—The homes along South Ponte Vedra Beach Boulevard were not spared from the wrath of Hurricane Mathew. The storm left behind a path of destruction and now some of the homes are hanging off of  their foundations.

Tom Turnage is one of the 700 property owners there. Tuesday, he was moving out the appliances from his storm-damaged home.

"It may be a total loss it may not be," said Turnage.

He purchased his beachfront home in 2003 and said in 2005 they noticed heavy beach erosion. He decided to build a sea wall and went through the permitting process.

"After I put the wall in, in 2008," said Turnage, "I thought that would have provided adequate protection."

It did - for a number of years - but during the early morning hours of  Hurricane Mathew. his sea wall failed.

"I don't have a sea wall to the north, so I got attacked from the side, I got out-flanked by Mathew," he said.

Turnage believes the damage to his home and many of the others could have been minimized if authorities would improve the permitting process for sea walls.

"The biggest roadblock is that the homes that were built after 1985 don't qualify for walls without a very lengthy, costly legal variance at a very high level of our government," said Turnage. "If the people to the north of me had a sea wall my house would not have been damaged."

The inside of his home was bone dry; no water damage. It also stood up to the strong winds, but the force of the raging waters breached his sea wall and washed out his foundation.

The county has placed a bright Orange Sticker on his garage door that reads: UNSAFE.

For years, residents have found a serious flaw in the sea wall permitting process. All applications must clear county, state and federal agencies, and the requirements for each agency is separate and independent of the other agency.

Turnage said there is no common sense in the process.

"Somebody at the county has got to be the leader in protecting our beach," he said. "To be honest, we are not satisfied with the support since 2005 after they started the dredging in St. Augustine."

Several property owners rent their homes during the Winter and Spring and now that income is gone. Turnage spent the day canceling leases through May and providing income.

He not only lost his home, but the income it generates.

"It is substantial income," he said.

On Saturday morning, 9 a.m., the property owners will meet at the Serenata Beach Club. They're hoping county officials will be on hand to address their concerns and give them some direction as to what's next.