VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. – As crews continue to save homes along the Volusia County coast, government leaders and residents are asking about ways to build back better to withstand another hit by a strong hurricane.
Nearly a dozen homes collapsed along the beachline of Wilbur-By-The-Sea after Hurricane Nicole hit in November, and more are in danger.
“We’ve never seen devastation like we have the way we have it here,” AJ Rockwell said.
Rockwell owns Sea Level Development in New Smyrna Beach.
His crews have installed supports that are literally holding up some homes that teeter over sandy cliffs.
Some of the supports are even holding up a swimming pool.
“(The homeowner) wants to rebuild this. This was his home. He lived here. He wants to rebuild this house,” Rockwell said. “He can’t start rebuilding this house until we have a seawall, and we have this elevation reestablished. We need more sand, so he can rebuild his house.”
A News 6 investigation shows the problem with the sand started before hurricanes Ian and Nicole hit this area.
According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, researchers declared 22 miles of Volusia County coastline as “critically eroded” for years.
READ MORE: Nearly 430 miles of Florida beaches declared critically eroded
That means the ocean has eaten so much sand that there is not much beach left.
“Most of our construction and rebuilding work can only be done at low tide, and that shortens the window to four or five hours a day that you have to do any construction,” Rockwell said.
He said county and state leaders should look at beach renewal project similar to one being done in New Jersey.
That’s where large earthmovers dig large holes in the beach, and the ocean does the rest of the work by bringing in the sand from right off the coast to rebuild the beach.
“It’s like a child digging a hole on the beach,” Rockwell said. “You know, they come back and check with mom and go back out there, and the hole is filled in same process that we’re into here -- just on a much, much larger scale.”
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Resilient rebuilding options
Dr. Sid Narayan is not only an assistant professor at East Carolina University, but he is also a coastal engineer.
“(This damage) means asking some tough questions about rebuilding,” he said.
Narayan warns two hurricanes hitting so closely together – like Ian and Nicole – could become more likely as the climate continues to warm, so how things are rebuilt will make a difference.
“Do we sort of really go all out and strengthen everything to the point that it can withstand two or three hurricane impacts?” he asked. “Then, the flip side of that is what does that mean for what the coast would look like for us?”
He said one option is rebuilding with nature, like the Dutch did with what they call their Sand Motor.
It’s a beach renourishment project on steroids that created an entire island off the coast of The Netherlands to act as a barrier to storm surge and flooding.
In North Carolina, new housing codes require homes to be set back father off the beach to prevent storm surge damage.
Narayan said he is currently working on a new research paper about the strength of planting mangroves.
He said the plants help create a barrier on the beach.
Florida Department of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said mangroves proved their might during Hurricane Ian.
“When the 18-foot storm surge came across the two-third-of-a-mile wide island in Fort Myers Beach at the mangroves, the 15-to-18 foot storm surge laid down to 4-to-6 feet,” he told News 6.
Volusia County leaders have asked the State of Florida for guidance on rebuilding.
News 6 obtained a letter sent by the county to Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-FL, on Nov. 15, where they asked for additions and modifications to the governor’s emergency order that they said would “armor the shoreline and structures from more impacts.”
When it comes to Florida, Narayan said there is unfortunately no one model to follow for rebuilding, and it is going to take time.
“I think that the answer is ultimately going to be a mix of these solutions,” he said. “That mix is going to be tailored for each context.”
Guthrie’s task force to map out best strategies for the rebuilding effort meets for the first time on Monday, Dec. 5.
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