Villano Beach home in danger of falling into surf after Hurricane Ian
A Vilano Beach home is in danger of falling into the surf after the ground beneath it was washed away during Hurricane Ian.
Corey Perrine, Florida Times-Union
On Dec. 21, 1954, I was Christmas shopping in downtown Arcata, California –– the community where I was raised –– when storefront windows began to rattle while the ground at the town plaza gently undulated in front of me. It registered 6.5 on the Richter scale and was my first significant earthquake experience. Not yet a teenager, it scared the bejeezus out of me.
Thirty-five years later, I was seated at a San Francisco bar near Union Square watching the World Series pre-game show on ABC when the shaking began and pieces of the plaster ceiling fell into my glass of beer. The Loma Prieta quake registered 6.9 on the Richter scale, causing my heart to race as it had in 1954.
Susan Parker: Extreme weather can elicit wide range of emotions
Once the initial jolt settled and the bar owner began serving complimentary drinks, it took a fresh glass or three of Budweiser to get my nervous, rubbery legs functioning well enough to walk home to my apartment above the Stockton Street Tunnel. With countless aftershocks rumbling and sirens wailing all night, it was a frightening time.
That said, if given the choice of experiencing another hurricane or earthquake, I’ll take a hurricane. At least there’s ample warning and opportunities to get out of harm’s way when a hurricane approaches –– provided, of course, you heed the warnings and do what the experts tell you to do. Not so with earthquakes; they can turn a normal day into a disaster in the blink of an eye (or the beat of a heart).
One thing both natural events have in common, however, is the sad fact that neither earthquake damage nor hurricane flooding are covered by homeowners insurance. Another similarity is the high cost of premiums to get the kind if insurance you do need –– not to mention an insurance company financially capable of paying your claim.
Although St. Johns County was spared the widespread devastation that swept through Lee County and other southwest areas, local impacts of Hurricane Ian again call into question the wisdom (or lack thereof) of building along the stretch of Highway A1A between Vilano Beach and Ponte Vedra and having taxpayers pick up the tab for repairs after major storms. And not just after hurricanes or tropical storms; even an occasional nor’easter can bring hurricane-like impacts to beachfront properties when sand dunes melt away like a St. George Street ice cream cone on a summer day.
Last November, as you may recall, a savage nor’easter tore away at St. Johns County dunes and left some beachfront homes beyond repair. Same thing happened when hurricanes
Mathew and Irma paid a visit a few years ago and left splintered wreckage and condemned homes in their wakes.
Then along came Ian.
You can blame it on climate change or Mother Nature, but the idea that taxpayers should continue to chip in to bail out uninsured and underinsured beachfront homeowners is a concept lacking in logic. We believe it’s time to seriously consider doing as some others have done; time to create a process for buying vulnerable properties and razing structures that are doomed to future destruction –– including destruction from the constant rise in sea level that threatens this region. Government buyouts have worked elsewhere; why not here?
The concept is controversial, yes, but in a buyout a government agency –– or combination of agencies at county, state and federal levels –– can acquire and demolish houses, and in the long run reduce the cost of public disaster programs. It is already being discussed for certain barrier islands in southwest Florida that were essentially leveled during Hurricane Ian, so maybe we can learn from Lee County and develop buyout plans that will accommodate weather impacts and sea level rise alike?
You can’t raze St. Augustine or most of St. Johns County, but you can sure as heck raze homes built on stilts that line State Route A1A from Vilano Beach to Ponte Vedra. Naturally, it would meet with understandable and well-funded opposition by current property owners, and keep lawyers busy for years, but how long should taxpayers be expected to continue supporting uninsured and underinsured properties that are destined to be gobbled up by the Atlantic Ocean at some point in the 21st century?
It’s one thing to fortify a beachfront house to withstand hurricane-force winds and high seas, but the dunes are not similarly fortified. Revegetation projects and bulldozers rearranging tons of sand can help, but they are no match for the relentless, pounding surf. Truth be told, fortifying the beaches against hurricanes, nor’easters and sea rise is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
Too little, too late.
Steve Cottrell is a former small-town mayor, chamber of commerce president and weekly newspaper editor. Contact him at email@example.com.
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