By Tim O’Meilia
Medical supply entrepreneur David Lumia and his wife, Margaret, were in their Manalapan carriage house on the west side of State Road A1A when Hurricane Sandy blustered north just offshore in late October, pushing surge after surge of waves landward at the worst possible time — during autumnal high tides just before a full moon.
“We felt seismic activity. The land was moving,” Lumia said.
“What was that?” his wife asked.
“Waves,” he answered.
Across A1A, where his oceanfront home was being renovated, the seawall had collapsed. His back lawn slid down beyond the wall in sheets. The asphalt driveway fell away in giant, cookie-shaped bites.
The story was the same — and worse — up and down the mile-plus stretch of A1A between Chillingworth Curve and the old Vanderbilt estate. The seawalls protecting at least 15 of South Florida’s priciest properties were severely damaged.
Worse, the oceanside pools of two homes collapsed, and the foundation at the corner of one of those homes was undermined. The week before Thanksgiving, a small Bobcat front-end loader was hauling concrete slabs and pushing sand behind the fallen seawall at New Age musician Yanni’s home on South Ocean Boulevard.
With the pool already lost, workers were trying to protect the corner of the house, where the foundation already was exposed. His was the hardest-hit.
No one has totaled the damage to private property, but the cost to replace the seawall alone could top $2 million, based on a ballpark estimate of 2,000 feet of damage at $1,000 per foot, according to structural engineers and government officials.
Countywide, the damage to public beaches and property tops $24.5 million, based on estimates calculated by officials of the Army Corps of Engineers, state environmental protection and county officials, who walked the length of the coastline.
Lantana lost its lifeguard tower and beach walkover, which will cost $44,000 to replace, and damage to a stairway and ramp in Ocean Ridge at the Boynton Inlet cost $24,000, said Dan Bates, deputy director of the county’s Department of Environmental Resources Management.
About $150,000 worth of damage was done to the railing at the Boynton Inlet jetty and to the sand transfer plant, mostly electrical. “The plant held up quite well,” Bates said. “It’s a good thing we built it like a lighthouse.” The plant was briefly offline.
The Ocean Ridge beach suffered $3 million worth of damage due to erosion but was due to be renourished next winter anyway. The sand trap in the inlet will be pumped onto the Ocean Ridge beach in February. The town has approved $23,000 to be spent on repairs to the town’s seven beach crossovers.
Farther south, Delray Beach, scheduled for renourishment in February, had $2.5 million worth of damage and Boca Raton beaches lost so much sand that it will cost $7.5 million to replace, Bates said.
Coastal disaster declared
Florida Gov. Rick Scott has declared most of Florida’s east coast a disaster area, allowing state permits for beach and seawall repairs to be issued quickly and without cost. He also has urged the federal government to declare a disaster, which may free up Federal Emergency Management Agency money for repairs to federally financed beach projects, such as the one in Ocean Ridge.
If the coastline is declared a federal disaster area, private beachfront owners also can apply for help.
Meanwhile, government officials have urged Manalapan oceanfront owners to band together and replace the seawall as a single entity because it will be easier to obtain permits and most likely will reduce the cost.
It’s an approach ocean residents did not take in 2003 when town voters took Manalapan out of the seawall-management business. Until then, the 1.6 miles of seawall — whose approval the late mayor and town commissioner LeRoy Paslay managed to push through the state Cabinet in the 1950s — was managed by the town. Paslay, who invented the printed circuit, among other things, designed the seawall.
The town oversaw repairs in 1965 and 1985, paid for by the landowners, but balked at the estimated $1.8 million repair cost in 2001. Some wanted their own engineers to examine the walls; others didn’t like the price.
Left to manage their own, “some homeowners maintained their seawalls and some did not,” said Manalapan Mayor Basil Diamond, who was a commissioner in 2003. “Some seawalls failed because adjacent seawalls failed.”
Lumia is determined to ensure that doesn’t happen again. He’s organized eight adjacent oceanfront residents, including Yanni, and is looking for more. “It behooves us to have one seawall and one permit,” he said.
Stewart Satter, the CEO of Consumer Testing Laboratories and owner of three oceanfront properties, is organizing homeowners south of Lumia’s group. “We didn’t have catastrophic failure, but we had a lot of sinkholes,” he said.
Quick response saves fees
Under the state’s emergency declaration, permits are free if homeowners apply within 30 days to replace seawalls in exactly the same place. In a meeting with homeowners and state officials at the Manalapan Town Hall on Nov. 13, Lumia lobbied for a 3-foot-taller wall.
A mechanical engineer by trade, Lumia believes waves topped the walls, soaking the land behind it, and the resulting weight was too much for the seawalls to withstand from behind.
Later in the day, state coastal official Tony McNeal said a 1-foot-higher wall could be approved without challenge. A higher wall or a second, tiered wall behind the first might require a longer and more costly permit process, he said.
“We’ll take whatever you give us,” Lumia said.
At least two owners got on-the-spot permit approval. The La Coquille Club representative made a drawing of a replacement staircase to the beach on a sheet of paper and got an immediate OK.
Meanwhile, Manalapan commissioners are considering paying $20,000 to hire an engineering firm to establish seawall performance standards for all seawalls in town, including bulkheads around Point Manalapan. The standards could require an engineer’s certification every five years.