WALTON COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — Hurricane Sally came through Walton County last week making an impact on its white-sand beaches. With beach erosion naturally intertwined with hurricanes, Walton County officials say that beach renourishment is imperative, but not always possible.
“If you want to do a wide-scale beach renourishment that really, that takes the cooperation of a lot of different people and a lot of different entities,” said David Demarest, Walton County TDC PIO. “Everybody from the beachfront property owners to state and local government, they all have to participate in that process.”
This means that private property owners would either have to: come to an agreement with the county and give up their private beach rights, fund beach renourishment on their own or face continuous erosion.
“You wouldn’t have public dollars renourish a private beach,” Demarest said. “Once you do the public renourishment that becomes public land all that new beach that’s generated.”
But the county does have funds reserved for beach renourishment; approximately $26 million, saved up over the years, Demarest said.
“The county below the Bay collects a tax on all short-term rentals and from hotel and motel stays, and it’s about four or five cents per dollar,” said Bill Imfeld, Walton County Economic Development Alliance director. “There’s one penny of that that’s specifically earmarked for beach renourishment.”
But officials say that the $26 million reserved for beach renourishment would be a fraction of what it would cost to fund the incredibly complex process of renourishing South Walton’s beaches.
The last time South Walton’s beaches were renourished was in 2005 after Hurricane Ivan when the county joined with the City of Destin to renourish a four-mile swath of beach.
One of the most important things to people who enjoy the beaches, Imfeld said, is the color and the clarity of the sand. Engineers working to renourish the beaches must source large quantities of white, virtually shell-less sand and bring it to South Walton either by truckload or via an offshore sandbank.
Imfeld added that FEMA can subsidize 75% of the cost of beach renourishment in any area claimed as a disaster zone.
Officials also said that it is not possible or economically viable to renourish one home’s worth of beach at a time because the sand would wash away too quickly, but added that, technically, private property owners have the right to apply to renourish their property and bring in trucks on their own land.