Hurricane Ophelia Eats Away at A1A Embankment

Mon September 26, 2005 - Southeast Edition
Jeff Cronin

David Snowden said he’s gotten lucky over the years when it comes to a 2-mi. stretch of Route A1A in Flagler Beach, FL.

The maintenance field operations manager of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has had to battle beach erosion along this stretch of two-lane highway for more than 20 years. But in all that time, the stability of the road has never been affected.

FDOT maintenance crews raced to the scene again Sept. 8 when Hurricane Ophelia, which was then churning off the Florida coast, chomped away at a 15-ft. embankment and allowed the ocean to lap at the road’s edge in some places.

The 20-member crew spent approximately one week placing coquina boulders, a natural rock formed from seashells that was used to construct some of Florida’s forts centuries ago.

More than 4,000 cu. yds. (3,060 cu m) of material was moved to the area from two sites, located 4 and 8 mi. away from the beach.

At the stockpile sites, Snowden said crews used a Badger excavator, a Samsung front end loader and a John Deere front end loader to dig up the material and load the trucks. In order to get the material to the job site as quickly as possible, Snowden grabbed trucks from everywhere he could, including neighboring FDOT maintenance districts and the inmate team with which FDOT works. In the end, approximately 20 dump trucks and crew cabs were carrying material to the site.

At the beach, crews dumped the sand directly from the trucks onto the embankment. However, they used a Gradall 880 with a grapple attachment to place the coquina boulders. Snowden said he didn’t want to dump the boulders for fear they would roll into the surf.

The FDOT crew’s efforts were delayed by a day for environmental concerns. This is turtle nesting season and, before they began working, they met with the department’s legal team and other state agencies to ensure they could perform their work without violating any environmental regulations.

Snowden said the erosion at this area, approximately one-half mi.= south of State Route 100, first happened with a Noreaster in 1984.

“It happens with just about every storm. For whatever reason, that particular area is always affected,” he said.

Over the years, FDOT has brought in private contractors to sure up the area, but nothing has held up.

Snowden feels lucky that big storms have only skirted the area.

“We don’t have anything there that would withstand a major hit. You’re talking about trying to hold back the ocean,” he said.

Approximately 25 years ago, a section of A1A in St. Johns County, located just north of Flagler County, was lost to erosion. FDOT rerouted the road during its reconstruction.

Snowden said FDOT is working to come up with a more permanent solution to the erosion near A1A, but he is not sure where those plans stand.

Until then, he and his crew ready themselves to revisit Flagler Beach during the next storm to save the highway. CEG