Report Suggests Limitations on Coastal Construction

Wed August 31, 2005 - Southeast Edition

NAVARRE BEACH, FL (AP) A state program that permits building near the water’s edge on Florida beaches should be reevaluated in the wake of Hurricane Dennis last month, a damage assessment report urged.

The Department of Environmental Protection report indicates Dennis damaged or destroyed 114 homes and 55 multiple-family dwelling units built seaward of coastal construction control lines, which run parallel to and varying distances from the shore depending on local conditions.

Structures cannot be built seaward of the lines except through state variances that are rarely denied.

The variances require that buildings be designed to survive the worst storm expected in a 100-year period, but some beach erosion has been more severe than expected when the lines were drawn years or decades ago.

Dennis, which made landfall July 10 in the Panhandle approximately 7 mi. west of Navarre Beach, is the latest in a series of storms that have battered Florida over the past year.

“The impact of five hurricanes and several tropical storms since establishment of the [control lines] have rendered them inadequate to define the impact zone of a 100-year storm in many areas,” environmental protection officials wrote in the report.

That doesn’t surprise critics of Florida’s control lines such as Orrin Pilkey, director of Duke University’s Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines. He said nothing should be constructed seaward of the lines because stronger structures do nothing to solve the erosion problem.

“In Florida, there is no setback line,” Pilkey said in a recent interview. “It’s just a myth.”

Other recommendations are that the state should:

• Assist local governments in seeking Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance to repair nonfederal beach and dune restoration projects.

• Help local authorities remove storm debris from active beaches and dune systems.

• Support more studies to find inland and offshore sources of sand to replenish eroded beaches and dunes.

• Do post-storm monitoring to assess the erosion and recovery progress.

• Conduct dune restoration and revegetation with supplemental fill if needed in areas of significant development or valuable natural resources that are vulnerable even to a moderate storm.

Some of the most serious destruction from Dennis occurred up to 200 mi. from where the hurricane came ashore with winds of 120 mph and a 10-to 12-ft. storm surge, according to the report.

Dennis, not surprisingly, caused major erosion in Santa Rosa County, which includes Navarre Beach, and neighboring Okaloosa County. The assessment, however, also found major damage as far away as Shell Point in Wakulla County, just south of Tallahassee. Major damage also occurred in Franklin and Walton counties.

Damage in Bay County, which includes Panama City Beach, and in Gulf County ranged from moderate to major. Pensacola Beach in Escambia County, just west of the hurricane’s eye, sustained minor erosion damage.

Panama City Beach, which has undergone beach renourishment in recent years, fared better than areas to the east and west, the report notes.

The assessment is based on 50 hours of video and more than 3,000 still photographs taken following Dennis.