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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Oct. 26, 201612:00 PM EST

Council approves emergency legislation for $7.5M dunes restoration project

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by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

There never is — and never will be — a good time for a major hurricane to devastate Duval County’s beaches and sand dunes.

But if it has to happen, it’s good to have a beach renourishment project already underway.

That’s the gist of emergency legislation unanimously enacted Tuesday by City Council to appropriate $7.5 million to restore the dunes and sea oats along the shore.

In addition to funding the project, the bill authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to request a proposal from the contractor that’s been dredging sand onto the beach since September to add the dune replacement to the original $13.5 million project.

The dune replacement portion of the money approved Tuesday is $6.5 million, with $1 million set aside to replant the sea oats that stabilize the dunes from erosion.

“We have a very short window to get the contractor to take this on,” said council member Bill Gulliford, who represents the beach communities. He and Vice President John Crescimbeni introduced the bill.

Gulliford said if the dune restoration cannot be added to the existing work, it could cost the city considerably more money to bid out another contract and bring in a dredge company for a stand-alone project.

“It could at least double the cost,” said Gulliford.

The legislation was introduced just hours after the federal government expanded the county’s Hurricane Matthew disaster designation to a level that will allow federal reimbursement for the dune project.

City Chief Financial Officer Mike Weinstein said the funds will be drawn from a debt management fund reserve account and the project will be conducted in a way that will allow maximum potential reimbursement from the state and federal governments.

He said as much as 75 percent of the cost could be covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, with the state picking up 12.5 percent of the cost, leaving 12.5 percent for the city’s investment.

“Our out-of-pocket cost is going to be insignificant,” said Crescimbeni.

Weinstein said the city could wire the $6.5 million to the corps of engineers within a few days.

At that point, the corps will request a proposal for the additional work from the dredging company and, assuming the cost is $6.5 million or less, the contract addition could be executed within “a day or two,” he said.

If the proposed price from the contractor exceeds $6.5 million, the corps is not authorized to approve the addition and the city would have to begin the process anew.

Reimbursement could take as long as two years, said Weinstein.

Council members were joined in their unanimity by the mayors of the three beach communities.

Atlantic Beach Mayor Mitch Reeves read an emergency resolution approved Monday by the City Commission in support of the ordinance.

“Your beaches need your help. We are all in this together,” said Neptune Beach Mayor Harriet Pruette.

Jacksonville Beach Mayor Charlie Latham also supported fast-tracking the dunes restoration because with the dunes so damaged, more devastation could result from even a smaller storm.

“A nor’easter is a serious threat all the way to (Florida) A1A,” he said. “We’re a little bit at your mercy.”

Council President Lori Boyer said the plan was devised and the city, the corps of engineers and FEMA cooperated fully to allow the legislation to be quickly introduced and enacted.

“It’s an example of how well people can work together,” she said.

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