A Coastal Star Special Report:
Hurricane shows just how fragile our shores are
By Cheryl Blackerby
In the months after Hurricane Sandy, community leaders looked at severe damage to beaches and worried about how to pay for it. Then they made frantic calls to state lawmakers.
State Rep. Bill Hager, R-Boca Raton, walked the beaches, listened to residents at community meetings, and fielded questions from Boca Raton City Council members about the possibilities of state and federal help.
Getting federal money can be a frustrating and often futile process, but Hager persevered.
“One area I visited in Delray Beach, for example, I saw 50 feet of dunes washed away, and the repair was to be quite costly,” he said. “Working with the city of Delray Beach, the Army Corps of Engineers and Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection, I was able to assist in the restoration project being completed in a timely and efficient manner.”
Because the federal government did not recognize the damage as being an emergency, he said, the coastal communities were not able to receive federal funding.
“But working with the Florida House and Senate last session, several of our beaches were able to receive state funding,” Hager said. “This included $1,114,000 for Ocean Ridge, $550,000 for Singer Island, and $790,000 for Boca Raton, and a commitment from the chair of the Environmental Appropriations Committee to work on more funding in the upcoming budget for Palm Beach County’s coastal communities.”
State Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, had worried about beach damage long before Sandy.
“In 2007, I convened a meeting along with then-Sen. Jeff Atwater, to discuss how the cities, counties and state could work together on shore protection issues. Unfortunately, as mayor of Lake Worth, I had very little pull and the effort failed, largely due to lack of interest from the Department of Environmental Protection,” Clemens recalled.
“Fast forward to 2011, and subsequent to my election to the Florida House, I met with the DEP to pitch the idea of treating these issues holistically, rather than one crisis at a time.”
The result was the pilot program called the Beach Management Agreement.
“When complete, the project will boast an optimum beach profile that will allow the county and municipal partners to react more quickly to storm damage, dramatically reducing the wait time on permits,” he said.
Other efforts weren’t so successful. “Also this year, the state increased the beach nourishment budget, although the House did not meet the Senate in fully funding the program,” Clemens said. “(But) I’m proud of the work we did in focusing on this issue in the Senate.”
On Jan. 3, former West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel was sworn in as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. The next day she helped pass bipartisan legislation that provided disaster relief to areas devastated by Hurricane Sandy.
“Passing this aid represents a big step forward because people are hurting and communities are trying to rebuild,” she said.