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Not ‘enough money to save them all.’ Florida oceanside towns grapple with double hurricane whammy

Orlando Sentinel logoOrlando Sentinel 12/8/2022 Skyler Swisher, Orlando Sentinel
Kate Rose at her family's home in Wilbur-By-The-Sea, Fla., Friday, December 2, 2022. The south Volusia coastline was devastated by significant beach erosion from Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole, causing millions in damage to oceanfront properties. © Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS Kate Rose at her family's home in Wilbur-By-The-Sea, Fla., Friday, December 2, 2022. The south Volusia coastline was devastated by significant beach erosion from Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole, causing millions in damage to oceanfront properties.

WILBUR-BY-THE-SEA — Kate Rose stays awake at night thinking about her family’s oceanfront home perched perilously on the edge of the eroded shoreline.

The next storm could send it crashing into the ocean, just like some of her neighbors’ homes in Wilbur-by-the-Sea. The small community suffered some of the worst damage from back-to-back hurricanes that tore through Volusia County this year.

“You open up the door now, and it’s a 25-foot drop straight down,” Rose said, adding that the initial repair bill came in at almost $1 million. “I mean we’re teetering on the edge.”

Everyone has their eye on the vanishing sand. The pounding surf wiped out protective dunes, leaving coastal homes sitting ducks for Mother Nature’s wrath as seawalls crumbled.

Wilbur-by-the-Sea is a dream spot for those who want to wake up to the sound of waves, beautiful ocean views and the smell of salt air.

But Robert S. Young, a coastal geologist, views this picturesque seaside village south of Daytona Beach as a warning sign, a glimpse into the future. Beachside living will grow even riskier and more expensive as oceans rise and warming seas generate super-charged storms, he said.

“There will come a time, 10 years from now, who knows, 15 years from now, when you’re going to have lots of places like this all over Florida,” said Young, director of Western Carolina University’s Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines. “You’re not going to have enough money to save them all.”

A walk down the beach reveals Hurricane Ian and Hurricane Nicole’s destruction in Wilbur-by-the-Sea and nearby Daytona Beach Shores, which is still evident a month after Nicole lashed the coast.

The storm surge cleaved houses into two, exposing rooms like a dollhouse. It unearthed swimming pools and left them sprawled on the ground like empty tubs. Condo buildings stand on the edge of cliffs. The storm uncovered a shipwreck believed to be from the 1800s.

Nina Lavigna, 83, lost part of her house. When she surveys the damage, she sums it up concisely: “This is a nightmare.”

Time to retreat?

Floridians need to start asking themselves some hard questions, Young said. Does rebuilding on the beach in high-risk areas or on critically eroded beaches make sense with rising seas? Will nourishment projects that involve dumping sand to build back beaches become cost-prohibitive with climate change?

Installation continues of the tiger dam by the Florida Division of Emergency Management and Volusia County along a stretch of Daytona Beach Shores, Fla., Monday, December 5, 2022. The coastline was impacted by significant beach erosion from Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole, causing millions in damage to oceanfront properties. © Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS Installation continues of the tiger dam by the Florida Division of Emergency Management and Volusia County along a stretch of Daytona Beach Shores, Fla., Monday, December 5, 2022. The coastline was impacted by significant beach erosion from Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole, causing millions in damage to oceanfront properties.

Young’s answer is that Florida’s ever-expanding coastal development isn’t sustainable, and leaders need to stop incentivizing construction right on the beach.

“If your house is teetering on the edge of a bluff, then I think that’s a pretty clear signal that’s a part of the shoreline that we should be taking a step back from,” Young said.

The state is grappling with out-of-control property insurance costs, a problem worsened by repeated hurricanes. Private insurers increasingly refuse to write policies in storm-prone areas, forcing more people onto the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp.

A collapsed swimming pool at a residence adjacent to Frank Rendon Park is seen as Installation continues of the tiger dam by the Florida Division of Emergency Management and Volusia County along a stretch of Daytona Beach Shores, Fla., Monday, December 5, 2022. The coastline was impacted by significant beach erosion from Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole, causing millions in damage to oceanfront properties. © Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS A collapsed swimming pool at a residence adjacent to Frank Rendon Park is seen as Installation continues of the tiger dam by the Florida Division of Emergency Management and Volusia County along a stretch of Daytona Beach Shores, Fla., Monday, December 5, 2022. The coastline was impacted by significant beach erosion from Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole, causing millions in damage to oceanfront properties.

Southwest Florida bore the brunt of Hurricane Ian with entire coastal communities wiped off the map. The storm made landfall on Sept. 28 west of Fort Myers as a powerful Category 4 hurricane.

Local leaders need to start thinking about relocating, instead of always rebuilding, Young said. One solution could be a buyout program that would turn the most vulnerable properties into public land that would serve as natural barriers during storms.

“At some point, these oceanfront residents have to realize that [the] sea level is rising and the shorelines are eroding and moving, and you cannot rely on the public sector to keep a beach in front of your house forever,” he said. “We’ve got thousands of miles of shoreline in the U.S. Eventually it’s just going to become impossible to guarantee everyone the right to have a full oceanfront lot.”

Young’s ideas haven’t caught on in Florida. After Hurricane Irma in 2017, a Florida House committee considered identifying high-risk areas and providing options for not rebuilding as part of its post-storm review. That proposal went nowhere during the legislative session.

Instead of shunning danger zones, investors are snatching up oceanfront properties destroyed by recent hurricanes and building bigger and even more expensive homes, said Mark Friedlander, a Florida spokesman for the Insurance Information Institute, an industry trade group.

“We are seeing a trend across the country of more people living in harm’s way than ever before,” he said. “Despite the potential hazard of a catastrophe impacting you and your family, people want to live along the coast.”

Florida’s world-famous beaches are one of its primary draws. About three-quarters of Florida’s 21.5 million residents live in coastal counties.

Compounding the issue, state lawmakers haven’t fixed a “manmade crisis” of fraud and excessive litigation that is driving up property insurance rates in Florida, Friedlander said. Even before the hurricanes, six insurers were declared insolvent and three more withdrew from the Florida market.

The surf continues to hit impacted dunes south of Toronita Avenue Beach Park in Wilbur-By-The-Sea, Fla., Friday, December 2, 2022. The southern Volusia coastline was devastated by significant beach erosion from Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole, causing millions in damage to oceanfront properties. © Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS The surf continues to hit impacted dunes south of Toronita Avenue Beach Park in Wilbur-By-The-Sea, Fla., Friday, December 2, 2022. The southern Volusia coastline was devastated by significant beach erosion from Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole, causing millions in damage to oceanfront properties.

The Legislature is meeting in a special session starting Monday to try to shore up the property insurance market.

A collapsed home south of Toronita Avenue Beach Park, with parts of a new, reinforced fiberglass seawall in the process of being installed, foreground, in Wilbur-By-The-Sea, Fla., Friday, December 2, 2022. The southern Volusia coastline was devastated by significant beach erosion from Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole, causing millions in damage to oceanfront properties. © Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS A collapsed home south of Toronita Avenue Beach Park, with parts of a new, reinforced fiberglass seawall in the process of being installed, foreground, in Wilbur-By-The-Sea, Fla., Friday, December 2, 2022. The southern Volusia coastline was devastated by significant beach erosion from Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole, causing millions in damage to oceanfront properties.

Friedlander doesn’t expect Floridians will see immediate relief with rates expected to rise 40% or more on average next year, on top of this year’s 33% increase. The average Florida homeowner is paying $4,231 in property insurance premiums, nearly three times the national average of $1,544, according to an analysis by his organization.

A collapsed home south of Toronita Avenue Beach Park, with parts for a new, reinforced fiberglass seawall in the process of being installed, foreground, in Wilbur-By-The-Sea, Fla., Friday, December 2, 2022. The southern Volusia coastline was devastated by significant beach erosion from Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole, causing millions in damage to oceanfront properties. © Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS A collapsed home south of Toronita Avenue Beach Park, with parts for a new, reinforced fiberglass seawall in the process of being installed, foreground, in Wilbur-By-The-Sea, Fla., Friday, December 2, 2022. The southern Volusia coastline was devastated by significant beach erosion from Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole, causing millions in damage to oceanfront properties.

‘It’s the American spirit’ to rebuild

Wilbur-by-the-Sea residents aren’t ready to retreat. They maintain that stronger coastal defenses would protect their community from future storms. They’ve been frustrated by what they consider to be government bureaucracy.

Gutted homes north of Toronita Avenue Beach Park in Wilbur-By-The-Sea, Fla., Friday, December 2, 2022. The southern Volusia coastline was devastated by significant beach erosion from Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole, causing millions in damage to oceanfront properties. © Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS Gutted homes north of Toronita Avenue Beach Park in Wilbur-By-The-Sea, Fla., Friday, December 2, 2022. The southern Volusia coastline was devastated by significant beach erosion from Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole, causing millions in damage to oceanfront properties.

Kenneth Meister, 58, is seeking a permit to build a 12-foot-high, 100-foot-long sea wall to protect his property, part of which fell into the sea. He said the state Department of Environmental Protection only signed off on a 4-four-foot temporary wall between Ian and Nicole, which wasn’t enough to save his home.

“People love the beach and love the area,” Meister said, while awaiting a call from his contractor. “As long as we know the property will be protected for the next 50 years, people are going to rebuild. It’s the American spirit. We take a hit, then we recover and we rebuild.”

A collapsed swimming pool at a residence adjacent to Frank Rendon Park is seen as Installation continues of the tiger dam by the Florida Division of Emergency Management and Volusia County along a stretch of Daytona Beach Shores, Fla., Monday, December 5, 2022. The coastline was impacted by significant beach erosion from Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole, causing millions in damage to oceanfront properties. © Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS A collapsed swimming pool at a residence adjacent to Frank Rendon Park is seen as Installation continues of the tiger dam by the Florida Division of Emergency Management and Volusia County along a stretch of Daytona Beach Shores, Fla., Monday, December 5, 2022. The coastline was impacted by significant beach erosion from Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole, causing millions in damage to oceanfront properties.

Meister said he isn’t asking for the state to pay for his seawall, just for it to expedite the permitting process.

Rose, too, is reluctant to abandon her family’s property. She grew up on Wilbur’s beaches and was married at the local boathouse. The unincorporated community retains an “old Florida feel” without built-up condos and retail strip malls. Neighbors hold potluck dinners and monthly yard sales, Rose said.

“It’s home,” she said. “A lot of people have been there for years and years and years. And even the younger residents are the children or grandchildren of the people who built or bought that house back in the ‘50s.”

Beachgoers walk past a new, reinforced fiberglass seawall in the process of being installed, south of Toronita Avenue Beach Park in Wilbur-By-The-Sea, Fla., Friday, December 2, 2022. The southern Volusia coastline was devastated by significant beach erosion from Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole, causing millions in damage to oceanfront properties. © Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS Beachgoers walk past a new, reinforced fiberglass seawall in the process of being installed, south of Toronita Avenue Beach Park in Wilbur-By-The-Sea, Fla., Friday, December 2, 2022. The southern Volusia coastline was devastated by significant beach erosion from Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole, causing millions in damage to oceanfront properties.

Census figures aren’t available, but a 2006 county report estimated only about 2,000 people lived in Wilbur-by-the-Sea.

Rose faults Volusia County for not building seawalls to protect beach access points, which she said created gaps in Wilbur-by-the-Sea’s coastal defenses and resulted in the seawalls at neighboring homes being undermined.

A seen from Frank Rendon Park, installation continues of the tiger dam by the Florida Division of Emergency Management and Volusia County along a stretch of Daytona Beach Shores, Fla., Monday, December 5, 2022. The coastline was impacted by significant beach erosion from Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole, causing millions in damage to oceanfront properties. © Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS A seen from Frank Rendon Park, installation continues of the tiger dam by the Florida Division of Emergency Management and Volusia County along a stretch of Daytona Beach Shores, Fla., Monday, December 5, 2022. The coastline was impacted by significant beach erosion from Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole, causing millions in damage to oceanfront properties.

“I think the answer is to provide adequate armament for the beach line,” she said. “That is the shared responsibility of private property owners, state and county property managers as well. We would not be in the situation that we are in today in Wilbur-by-the-Sea, Florida, if Volusia County had armed the gap where the crosswalks exist. It’s a cold, hard fact.”

Kevin Captain, a Volusia County spokesman, said in an email the county isn’t under a legal obligation to armor its shoreline, and county officials cannot speculate on whether a seawall would have prevented damage in Wilbur-by-the-Sea.

Gutted homes north of Toronita Avenue Beach Park in Wilbur-By-The-Sea, Fla., Friday, December 2, 2022. The southern Volusia coastline was devastated by significant beach erosion from Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole, causing millions in damage to oceanfront properties. © Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS Gutted homes north of Toronita Avenue Beach Park in Wilbur-By-The-Sea, Fla., Friday, December 2, 2022. The southern Volusia coastline was devastated by significant beach erosion from Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole, causing millions in damage to oceanfront properties.

DEP issued an emergency order allowing existing seawalls to be repaired or replaced as long as they are within the same footprint as the previous structure with a typical processing time for applications of five days, Alexandra Kuchta, a DEP spokeswoman, said in an email. Permits to build new seawalls for properties without one are being reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Gutted homes north of Toronita Avenue Beach Park in Wilbur-By-The-Sea, Fla., Friday, December 2, 2022. The southern Volusia coastline was devastated by significant beach erosion from Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole, causing millions in damage to oceanfront properties. © Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS Gutted homes north of Toronita Avenue Beach Park in Wilbur-By-The-Sea, Fla., Friday, December 2, 2022. The southern Volusia coastline was devastated by significant beach erosion from Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole, causing millions in damage to oceanfront properties.

The Florida Division of Emergency Management deployed a temporary barrier called a tiger dam in Daytona Beach Shores that is designed to prevent further erosion while residents rebuild their seawalls.

Before Nicole struck, police went door-to-door evacuating condos in Daytona Beach Shores. About two dozen buildings were initially declared to be structurally unsafe.

About 13 condos, hotels and other buildings remain off limits in Daytona Beach Shores, as engineers evaluate properties, according to Volusia County. Three coastal buildings in New Smyrna Beach and two in Ponce Inlet are also listed as unsafe.

An initial damage assessment found 29 homes in Wilbur-by-the-Sea sustained damage.

Installation continues of the tiger dam by the Florida Division of Emergency Management and Volusia County along a stretch of Daytona Beach Shores, Fla., Monday, December 5, 2022. The coastline was impacted by significant beach erosion from Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole, causing millions in damage to oceanfront properties. © Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS Installation continues of the tiger dam by the Florida Division of Emergency Management and Volusia County along a stretch of Daytona Beach Shores, Fla., Monday, December 5, 2022. The coastline was impacted by significant beach erosion from Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole, causing millions in damage to oceanfront properties.

A pretty penny for sand

Homeowners are looking at significant repair costs to replace lost sand, rebuild seawalls and address other issues caused by the erosion, said AJ Rockwell, owner of Sea Level Development in New Smyrna Beach.

“It is pretty typical to have a million dollars of damage just in your backyard,” he said.

Insurers are denying claims because of an “erosion exclusion” in their policies, Rockwell said.

A collapsed swimming pool at a residence adjacent to Frank Rendon Park is seen as Installation continues of the tiger dam by the Florida Division of Emergency Management and Volusia County along a stretch of Daytona Beach Shores, Fla., Monday, December 5, 2022. The coastline was impacted by significant beach erosion from Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole, causing millions in damage to oceanfront properties. © Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS A collapsed swimming pool at a residence adjacent to Frank Rendon Park is seen as Installation continues of the tiger dam by the Florida Division of Emergency Management and Volusia County along a stretch of Daytona Beach Shores, Fla., Monday, December 5, 2022. The coastline was impacted by significant beach erosion from Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole, causing millions in damage to oceanfront properties.

Beach-quality sand is in short supply. It must be either trucked in from inland mines or dredged from the bottom of the sea. But repeated storms are making it harder to find, Rockwell said.

Installation continues of the tiger dam by the Florida Division of Emergency Management and Volusia County along a stretch of Daytona Beach Shores, Fla., Monday, December 5, 2022. The coastline was impacted by significant beach erosion from Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole, causing millions in damage to oceanfront properties. © Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS Installation continues of the tiger dam by the Florida Division of Emergency Management and Volusia County along a stretch of Daytona Beach Shores, Fla., Monday, December 5, 2022. The coastline was impacted by significant beach erosion from Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole, causing millions in damage to oceanfront properties.

The cost of sand doubled after Hurricane Ian, going from about $600 a load to $1,200, Rockwell said. The typical home on Wilbur’s oceanfront is requiring 220 to as many as 400 loads, totaling up to $480,000 just for the material.

Seawalls also aren’t cheap, costing anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000 per linear foot, Rockwell said.

The barriers help protect valuable coastal real estate, but they aren’t without drawbacks.

Beach is lost in front of a seawall because it disrupts the natural sand replacement cycle. That means less sand for the public. It also carries environmental effects, harming sea turtle nesting and habitats for shore birds. Building a seawall increases erosion on neighboring properties that are unprotected.

Eroded dunes south of Toronita Avenue Beach Park in Wilbur-By-The-Sea, Fla., Friday, December 2, 2022. The southern Volusia coastline was devastated by significant beach erosion from Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole, causing millions in damage to oceanfront properties. © Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS Eroded dunes south of Toronita Avenue Beach Park in Wilbur-By-The-Sea, Fla., Friday, December 2, 2022. The southern Volusia coastline was devastated by significant beach erosion from Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole, causing millions in damage to oceanfront properties.

Even before the most recent hurricanes, about 426 miles of Florida beaches — more than half of the 825 miles of coastline surveyed — were considered to be critically eroded, including 22 miles in Volusia County, according to a June report from the DEP.

Researchers from the St. Augustine Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program dig, Monday, December 5, 2022, to investigate what they say is a shipwreck, possibly from the 1800s, partially uncovered during severe beach erosion from Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole in Daytona Beach Shores, Fla. State archeologists are reportedly expected to also visit the site this week. © Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS Researchers from the St. Augustine Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program dig, Monday, December 5, 2022, to investigate what they say is a shipwreck, possibly from the 1800s, partially uncovered during severe beach erosion from Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole in Daytona Beach Shores, Fla. State archeologists are reportedly expected to also visit the site this week.

Local, state and federal governments share the hefty cost of beach nourishment projects. It’s a temporary fix, as the sand eventually must be replenished.

More than $1.5 billion in public funds have been spent on beach nourishment in Florida, according to a database compiled by Western Carolina University researchers that includes projects dating back to 1923.

State economists, though, say those projects have paid off. A 2015 analysis found that for every dollar spent on beach management and restoration $5 is generated through tourists who pay taxes and support businesses and hotels. High-dollar beachfront homes also are a source of property tax revenue for local governments.

Howard Marlowe, who lobbies for coastal communities in Washington, D.C., and earned the nickname “the Sand King” for his work, said opponents of beach nourishment need to look at the issue in “a realistic way as opposed to an academic way.”

The projects create a first line of defense during storms, preventing damage to everything from mom-and-pop T-shirt shops to nuclear power plants, he said.

“It’s a lot of commerce along the coast,” said Marlowe, president of Warwick Group Consultants.

Expensive road to recovery

It’s a word Volusia County leaders can’t stop saying: “unprecedented.”

The back-to-back storms proved to be a catastrophe for one of Florida’s most iconic stretches of beach where cars once raced and college students rocked out at MTV spring break concerts during the 1980s.

The beach that residents and visitors knew over the summer is gone, Jessica Fentress, coastal division director for Volusia County, said in a taped message after the storm.

“It was nothing short of devastating. ... You’ve seen tears,” she said. “You’ve seen heartbreak, and our beach is truly changed.”

The surf continues to hit impacted dunes south of Toronita Avenue Beach Park in Wilbur-By-The-Sea, Fla., Friday, December 2, 2022. The southern Volusia coastline was devastated by significant beach erosion from Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole, causing millions in damage to oceanfront properties. © Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS The surf continues to hit impacted dunes south of Toronita Avenue Beach Park in Wilbur-By-The-Sea, Fla., Friday, December 2, 2022. The southern Volusia coastline was devastated by significant beach erosion from Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole, causing millions in damage to oceanfront properties.

Nicole, a rare November Category 1 hurricane when it made landfall near Vero Beach, caused $522 million in damage on top of the $377 million caused by Hurricane Ian, according to the county’s preliminary estimates.

Researchers from the St. Augustine Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program dig, Monday, December 5, 2022, to investigate what they say is a shipwreck, possibly from the 1800s, partially uncovered during severe beach erosion from Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole in Daytona Beach Shores, Fla. State archeologists are reportedly expected to also visit the site this week. © Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS Researchers from the St. Augustine Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program dig, Monday, December 5, 2022, to investigate what they say is a shipwreck, possibly from the 1800s, partially uncovered during severe beach erosion from Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole in Daytona Beach Shores, Fla. State archeologists are reportedly expected to also visit the site this week.

President Joe Biden issued a major disaster declaration for Ian, but he has not issued one for Nicole. U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott are urging Biden to declare Nicole a major disaster, which would unlock additional federal assistance.

County officials fear a winter storm could worsen coastal erosion even more. Gov. Ron DeSantis announced $20 million for emergency sand placement, $5 million of which is expected to go to Volusia.

Gutted homes north of Toronita Avenue Beach Park in Wilbur-By-The-Sea, Fla., Friday, December 2, 2022. The southern Volusia coastline was devastated by significant beach erosion from Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole, causing millions in damage to oceanfront properties. © Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS Gutted homes north of Toronita Avenue Beach Park in Wilbur-By-The-Sea, Fla., Friday, December 2, 2022. The southern Volusia coastline was devastated by significant beach erosion from Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole, causing millions in damage to oceanfront properties.

That’s only a start of what will need to be spent to rebuild Volusia’s coastline, said Stephen Leatherman, a Florida International University geoscientist known as “Dr. Beach” for his annual rankings of the best beaches in America.

“Volusia County is looking at a pretty big bill,” Leatherman said. “I’d say hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Sand will return in the summer, Leatherman said, but he expects extensive beach nourishment and improvements in coastal defenses will be needed. That could affect the future of beach driving in Volusia County because the new sand will be coarser, he said.

Volusia has been fortunate because it has been able to maintain its beaches without nourishment projects, unlike other parts of the state that regularly bring in sand, Leatherman said.

A $25 million nourishment project was recently approved for nearby Flagler Beach, which sustained damage from recent hurricanes, most notably Hurricane Matthew in 2016. About $108 million has been spent on nourishment projects in Brevard County since 1966, according to Western Carolina University’s database.

Volusia County is working with state and federal officials to identify funding to restore its beaches, but it doesn’t have a cost estimate or timeframe yet, said Captain, the county spokesman.

Rockwell, the contractor who lives in New Smyrna Beach, said the damage to Volusia’s beaches is extensive.

“The county is going to have a tremendous problem drawing people to our beaches,” he said. “Our beaches have always been known as the drive-on beach. ... The only way to get the visitors and everyone back in our hotels is to get the beach built back up.”

Statewide, Hurricane Ian is on track to be the second costliest disaster in the United States with up to $60 billion in projected insured losses, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Only Hurricane Katrina caused more when adjusting for inflation, racking up about $90 billion in insured losses.

Nicole added another $1.5 billion in losses.

But Lavigna, the Wilbur-by-the-Sea resident, said she doesn’t want to abandon the seaside community she has loved for decades.

“There is nothing like living on the ocean,” she said.

sswisher@orlandosentinel.com

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