Briny Breezes is seeking near- and long-term solutions to flooding that happens every fall during king tide season. During the peak impact from Hurricane Nicole, water flowed over sea walls, making it difficult to see where the marina ends and roads begin. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Joe Capozzi
Briny Breezes could be a few years away from starting construction on new sea walls, the initial step of an ambitious multimillion-dollar plan to protect the town from climate change and sea level rise, a consultant said at a town meeting Nov. 15.
But shareholders in the tiny coastal co-op of mobile homes still have tough decisions to make soon about broader long-term measures for protecting Briny Breezes over the next 50 years, said Alec Bogdanoff of Brizaga, a civil engineering firm retained by the town and corporation.
“We want to figure out how to stop the flooding already existing in the community and then we can talk about how we plan for the long term,’’ he told about 60 people in an hourlong meeting at the Briny Breezes Community Center.
The next step is for Brizaga to conduct a vulnerability assessment that will help in developing an adaptation plan with detailed cost estimates for such construction projects as raising and armoring existing sea walls, expanding the stormwater system and elevating roads and homes.
While the assessment will help town officials rank the most vulnerable assets, it’s also a requirement for different grants Briny will apply for to help pay for construction.
“Next summer we are applying for a grant to help build whatever infrastructure comes out of this assessment,’’ Bogdanoff said.
“The hope is that we can apply for grants and start thinking about construction in the next couple of years to really start fixing the assets that need to be fixed the most, which are likely to be the sea walls.’’
Looking beyond the short-term fixes, the town at some point will have to elevate homes and roads, some of which would have to be raised about 2½ feet, Bogdanoff said.
“Long term you have to elevate. That is really the long-term solution to protecting any community,’’ he said.
The meeting was held just five days after Hurricane Nicole made landfall near Vero Beach. Although Vero Beach is 90 miles north of Briny Breezes, the Category 1 storm still sent 2 feet of storm surge into parts of coastal Palm Beach County, including Briny Breezes, where several streets and mobile homes on the west side of town were flooded.
“When this water came in (with) this last storm, it kept us out of our units for days,’’ said Christina Adams, a Briny Breezes Town Council member. “I know section 4 has issues with washouts, but there are people in section 3 that have (wet) furniture on their front doorsteps and in their yards.’’
The east side of town, by the Atlantic Ocean, is elevated and not prone to chronic flooding. Most of Briny’s flooding problems are on the west side along the Intracoastal Waterway, where most homes are closer to the water. The west side is divided into two residential districts with many aging sea walls.
Chuck Swift of Heron Drive told Bogdanoff that he’s losing land “to the level where in possibly 90 days I’m gonna be in jeopardy,’’ he said.
“I’m looking to see what your program is going to do in the next 90 days for the properties that are in crisis on Heron and on Ibis (Drive),’’ he said. “I’m about to lose my trailer. My deck is sinking. I have a severe washout.’’
When one speaker said 60% of the town’s shareholders are not impacted by flooding and asked who should be responsible for the mitigation repairs, Bogdanoff urged residents to take a broader look at the community-wide benefits of fixing the problem.
“At the end of the day, if you let half of Briny Breezes flood and you don’t have that property revenue, you don’t have that shareholder, how does that work?’’ said Bogdanoff, who mentioned that all county homeowners pay school taxes even if they don’t have children.
“Sometimes you pay for things in a different part of the community that may not directly benefit you because there are things you get that they don’t pay for,’’ he said. “It’s a difficult conversation. Presumably if you are applying for grants next summer, that conversation is going to have to occur in the spring at the latest.’’
Initial cost estimates, compiled by Brizaga in a 2021 report, called for up to $16 million in immediate measures such as stormwater improvements and replacing the most vulnerable sea walls. It also called for up to $125 million for long-term solutions such as raising roads and homes. Those cost estimates are expected to rise with the new assessment.
Whatever solutions Briny chooses will likely be paid for with state grants that the town will have to match with money from other sources such as federal grants. The town also might need to consider partnerships with a developer that could pay for improvements then lease the assets to the town.
In 2007, developer Ocean Land Investments reached a deal to buy Briny Breezes for $510 million, but the transaction fell through later that year when OLI was unable to secure financing for the project as the stock market collapsed.
“The question here is you guys need a lot of money, so how do you get as much money as possible without really changing the character of this community?’’ Bogdanoff said.
“You have decisions you have to make but the good news is you have 15 years to figure it out. You are starting now and you’re ahead of most (communities). You might say, ‘Well, I’m probably not gonna be here in 50 years,’ but we all want to be able to sell our properties or pass this community on to the next generation.’’
Some residents wondered if the town and corporation will ever be able to afford the improvements needed to guarantee that Briny Breezes will survive the onset of rising water projected in the coming decades.
“I know people love it, but we might have to come to some really, really hard decisions in the future (about) what to do with the whole area,’’ said Linda Malstrom, whose parents first bought in town in 1979.
“I’m sorry to say that but it’s a reality.’’
No election required
Three Briny Breezes council members automatically won new two-year terms without a single ballot being cast. Liz Loper retained Seat 1, Sue Thaler retained Seat 3 and Bill Birch retained Seat 5 because no one filed by the Nov. 22 qualification deadline to challenge them.