Seven sandbags leaned against each other in Larry Edwards’ yard, as the new homeowner attempted to arrange them around his beachfront home.
Days out from Hurricane Irma’s predicted slide across Northeast Florida, Edwards already felt a bit defeated.
Remnants of last year’s hurricane season still clung to his South Ponte Vedra Beach neighbors — and to his own home.
His concrete floor hung unsupported by the ground beneath, and glimpses of tools could be seen through slits in the garage floor. The outline of a former seawall poked up from his yard, which was still littered with wood logs, metal siding and other debris Hurricane Matthew sucked from his house last year.
All of it, Edwards predicted, would wash out onto the beach should Irma rumble past.
“Here we are, it’s almost November and we haven’t been able to get permits to build a seawall,” Edwards said. “Now another hurricane is on its way, and we aren’t prepared. We should have been.”
Until the end of June, Edwards and his girlfriend Theresa Forrester remained in limbo on the house.
The man who owned it before him — and who owned it during Hurricane Matthew — died. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection told Edwards he would be able to build a seawall as a repair of the current structure, as long as no machines entered the beach. It’s sea turtle season at the moment and that prevents construction on beach lots.
However, the process hit snags. The DEP, Edwards said, backtracked.
“They are trying to protect the beach, but I feel they are harming the beach,” he added. “The won’t let us make this right. They won’t let us fix the problem. We have all this stuff that wouldn’t be here if we had been allowed to do so.”
In the meantime, Edwards stacks his 40 sandbags and he prays the water doesn’t seep into his new central air-conditioning unit or tear away what’s left of his home. He plans to evacuate with Forrester and their border collie, Tucker.
According to Howard White, St. Johns County building services director, the county can issue permits for temporary coastal seawalls when a state of emergency is in effect — and while it hasn’t yet for Irma, White said the application process is fairly easy.
During that application, homeowners should also touch base with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to facilitate turning that temporary structure into a permanent armory.
However, if the work is being proposed has a deleterious impact on the turtles, White said he doesn’t believe it would be allowed to move forward.
Turtle season runs until the end of October.
“If someone was to apply for a permit today, they can still go forward after the storm passes,” White said. “Is it enough time to get something done between now and Sunday? Probably not.”
White said that nothing stopped homeowners from applying for permitting during the last state of emergency, before and after Hurricane Matthew. In fact, St. Johns County issued 76 permits for emergency coastal seawalls — and 30 of those turned into permanent walls.
“In my judgment, the beach along that area has really healed itself very well,” White said. “I think they’ve done an exceptional job of protecting themselves. … Is there more work to be done? Yes.”
Larry Killham and his partner Rudy Esquivel are no strangers to hard work. Since they bought their home following Matthew, they’ve nearly replaced all the exterior siding and drywall, added a bathroom and rebuilt their outside decking.
They live on the north end of South Ponte Vedra Beach — and Irma will be a first for the Kansas City expats. They’ve put away all their exterior furniture and placing all important furniture on blocks.
“We’re tornado people,” Killham said. “We’ve seen tons of tornadoes.”
The couple knows how to avoid those — get in front and then get around it. With Hurricane Irma stretching nearly 400 miles, Killham realized that plan might not work the same way.
The two will be loading up their dogs — Rocket and Gus — and driving back to Kansas City, where they own a second residence.
Their nearby neighbor Linda Remsen has a similar plan. She’s loading up her two dogs and her cat to make the trip north toward her farmhouse in Georgia.
She hopes her dune holds back any Irma storm surge, but she isn’t so sure. Last year, her residence lost about 100 feet of dune — and it hasn’t been replaced.
Remsen and her husband have been remodeling the house in preparation for her husband’s retirement.
“It’s just about finished, just in time for the hurricane to take everything,” she said. “My concern is if it comes up the coast like it did last time, it will just destroy the beach.”
Amanda Williamson: (904) 359-4665