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Florida lawmakers set aside $2.5M to buy out homes on St. Johns County beach with severe erosion

Local money could eventually buy Summer Haven homes at fair market value, and the land would be turned into a preserve.

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. — The southern part of the beach in Summer Haven has battled severe erosion for decades.

Most recently, ocean waves rushed under homes during last week during the nor’easter. Now, the state government is moving toward allotting $2.5 million to buy out some of those beachfront homes specifically in Summer Haven.

"I think it’s a great start," St. Johns County Commissioner Henry Dean said about the possible state allocation. "That beach is so volatile. It’s subject to constant pounding."

During this legislative session, the state house and senate have approved bills (HB 5001 and SB 2500)  that would set aside $2.5 million toward buying private property on south Summer Haven.

It’s where Old A1A used to exist just a few years ago, but waves have eroded it away over and over again.

Commissioner Dean’s suggestion for the past two years has been to gather county, state, and federal money to buy out some of these 25 properties and turn the land into a preserve. 

"Remember I’m talking about fair market value," he told First Coast News Monday. "I think it has to be voluntary in my opinion. Hopefully we’d have a number of homeowners interested in selling."

According to Zillow, these houses range in price from $600,000 to $2 million. Dean said it would take several years to gather enough money to purchase the homes.

He says it makes more economic sense to buy the properties than to continue to dump money into maintaining a road, that the county is bound to do by a court settlement.

Dean said if these homes are not purchased by the government, "All we’re going to be doing at the state, federal, and local levels for years to come is pouring money into a problem that is not permanently fixable."

However, some homeowners on this stretch of Summer Haven, such as Brian Love, don’t foresee selling at all.

"My wife and I have a 30-year plan," he explained. "We plan to retire out here.  And hopefully my children and their children can deal with it."

So far, the state is the only entity to put money toward what it calls a “managed retreat program.”

First Coast News stated to Dean, "It sounds like this idea to buy out some of the properties would essentially let nature take its course." 

Dean responded, "Exactly. Exactly."

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