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Dunes destroyed by developer raise concerns for Vilano Beach neighbors

People living along the Coastal Highway are worried about hurricane season now that the nearby dunes are cleared.

VILANO BEACH, Fla. — Bulldozers and cranes filled the view for some folks living on Vilano Beach's coast.

Now that a developer has cleared some dunes, it has them worried about the rest of hurricane season.

For folks living nearby, they knew the day they watched that bulldozer roll in that it was too late to prevent it from happening.

"We like the fact that even when a hurricane comes by, the dunes help protect us," said Bonne Patrick, who lives near the cleared dunes. "They keep the ocean separated from the homes."

Patrick says she and the Seaside Capers homeowners go out of their way to make sure preserving the dunes is a top priority with any decisions they make.

In fact, one neighbor told First Coast News when he wanted to extend his deck a few feet, he had to get a permit and was told he couldn't build any support poles into the dunes.

Which is why it was especially shocking to see the dunes leveled right next to them.

"There's nothing now to keep the ocean from coming in, flooding that property, flooding the neighbor property, and flooding A1A," said Patrick.

First Coast News tried to contact the property owner, but can't find a number still in service.

Most construction requires a St. Johns County permit but County Commissioner Henry Dean says the state oversees construction that close to the water, with a line running all up and down the coast.

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"Coastal Construction Control Line Program is not a prohibition against development," said Dean. "It has certain stiffened criteria as you go further out past the line."

He says the county can challenge a state permit if it raises red flags, but that case hasn't come up yet.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection reports it did issue a permit to a developer to clear out Brazilian Pepper, an invasive species, from the dunes.

In a statement, the department says the pepper "is not native to Florida and this plant poses a threat to our natural ecosystems by shading out native vegetation and providing poor habitat for native wildlife."

However, the statement says all native dune species, like palm trees, will remain untouched.

Violating a permit is a first degree misdemeanor, and the state has the right to go on the property and fix the damage at the property owner's expense.

Patrick says she and some of her fellow homeowners want to see that land filled back in with sea oats or some sort of vegetation to try to make up for the damage that's already been done.

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