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Summer Haven River will have $400,000 study to analyze its impact on area

Storms repeatedly send waves overtopping the beach and rushing into the river, sending sand into it.

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. — A small river near the ocean has been at the root of some big headaches in Southern St. Johns County.

St. Johns County commissioners voted unanimously to spend $400,000 to better understand how the Summer Haven River impacts the area.

The Summer River is sandwiched right between the Intra-coastal Waterway on the west and the Atlantic Ocean on its east.

This Summer Haven River just can’t seem to get a break

Or actually... breaks are its problem.

Ocean waves keep breaking through the nearby beach during big storms, sending sea water and sand rushing in.

The biggest most notable breach was in 2008 with Tropical Storm Fay. That resulted in the Summer Haven River getting almost completely sanded in. Docks no longer stood in water but on sand, and river wildlife such as manatees disappeared from the area.

A community and state effort restored the Summer Haven River by recreating a dune on the beach to keep ocean water out.  The sand came from the dredging of the silted-in river bed.

"Now we’re breached to the south of that," St. Johns County Emergency Management Director Joseph Giammanco said. 

In 2016, Hurricane Matthew tore a new hole in the beach, yet again pushing sand from the ocean in to the river. 

Hurricane Dorian did the same thing in 2019. And then most recently last November, a nor'easter ripped a new gap in the beach, essentially creating a new mini inlet.

"The river gets filled in with sand and impacts the flow of the river and so we’re trying to understand what that flow has an impact on the community," Giammanco told First Coast News.

County commissioners want to know: if the river smoothly flows – or doesn’t because it’s broken into two parts, how does that affect neighborhoods, the beach, and even the Matanzas Inlet which is just north of these breaches?

Tuesday the commission discussed and approved spending $400,000 on a study to analyze the river and its impacts of it sanding in again.

Members of the public, many who live or recreate near on on the Summer Haven River spoke during public comment at the commission meeting. Some were against spending more money on the area. Others said it had to be done. 

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