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Erosion taking its toll on pricey stretch of beachfront property

Published June 12, 2007


PONTE VEDRA BEACH - Tom Turnage is seeing his neighborhood vanish into the crashing waves as coastal erosion has turned this stretch of million-dollar homes backing up to the ocean into a construction zone.

Just down the gray sandy beach in this North Florida retirement and resort haven, a bulldozer is burying 20-foot-long vinyl strips to try to keep the Atlantic Ocean from destroying any more homes. Another home has been condemned after its underpinnings were washed away.

Several of Florida's East Coast beaches from North Florida to Palm Beach have taken a severe beating from Subtropical Storm Andrea and northeasters, storms that blow in from the northeast.

But according to the Army Corps of Engineers, this 10-mile stretch of beach is the only one where homeowners are looking for solutions to prevent their exclusive beachfront homes from falling into the ocean.

The steady advance loss of sand to the ocean has become especially severe in this enclave of homes, many of them valued at more than $1-million, about 7 miles north of St. Augustine.

Rep. John Mica, R-Florida, visited the beach Monday, and although sympathizing with the plight of the homeowners, could offer little support from the federal government.

"If we get another storm, I believe you are going to see some of these houses fall into the ocean, " Mica said.

Homeowners are footing the bill for the wall they are constructing between their homes and the crashing waves. The wall costs about $1, 000 a linear foot, meaning most home owners are shelling out about $75, 000 each.

In addition, Turnage and his neighbors are raising $140, 000 and hoping for an equal amount from the state for a study on the causes of the severe erosion and what might be done to fix it, Turnage said.

Many of the nearby homeowners were frustrated with the county, state and federal governments for not taking action years ago before homes were lost.

"It's like it has to be a catastrophe before they do anything, " said Joanne Zimmerman, who lives near the south end of the beach, 2 miles of which have been determined by state officials to be in critical condition.

"The house right next to us is just 5 feet away from being condemned, " Zimmerman said.

Jerry Scarborough, chief of navigation and coastal branch and project manager for the Army Corps of Engineers in Jacksonville, said the corps is considering adding Ponte Vedra Beach to the list of areas it renourishes. But, he added, that is a five-year process.

During the hurricane seasons in 2004 and 2005, the beaches that had been renourished fared better than those that had not, he said.

"Beaches are sacrificial when you have a storm, " he said.

[Last modified June 12, 2007, 01:10:54]

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