Crumbling Seawalls, Rising Seas: Fort Lauderdale Crackdown On Way
Own waterfront property with a failing seawall out back? This story’s for you.
Maybe your seawall is cracked or crumbling. Or maybe it’s just so low that water floods your property — and your neighbors’ — at high tide.
If you’ve been putting off getting a new one because of the hassle and cost, you’ll soon have good reason to escalate it to the top of your to-do list.
Here’s the scoop: Fort Lauderdale is on the verge of requiring higher seawalls in keeping with a county mandate aimed at fortifying cities in Broward that are vulnerable to sea level rise and tidal flooding.
Fort Lauderdale currently requires seawalls to have a minimum height of 3.9 feet above mean sea level. The new rule will set the minimum at 4 feet. The wall should be solid enough to add a 12-inch cap later on, so it can be heightened to 5 feet by 2050.
Currently, owners can be cited if their seawall allows tidal waters to flow into their property or onto neighboring properties and roads. They have one year to get the problem fixed. If they miss the 365-day deadline, they can be fined $100 a day.
Vote Coming In March
Fort Lauderdale commissioners are expected to approve the new seawall requirements in March.
Other cities have already passed similar requirements, including Hollywood, Dania Beach, Hallandale Beach, Davie, Deerfield Beach, Pompano Beach, Wilton Manors, Oakland Park and Lauderdale-by-the-Sea.
“The new height requirements are not likely to go over well,” said Mike Weymouth, chair of Fort Lauderdale’s Planning & Zoning Board. “There are people out there who have owned properties for decades and they’re going to get a notice saying their seawall is too low. It’s not like it’s a $500 fix. It’s $1,000 a foot. People don’t have that kind of money sitting around to put into a seawall.”
Replacing a seawall isn’t cheap. Costs can range between $1,200 to $2,000 per linear foot. That means a homeowner who needs a 100-foot-long seawall might end up paying $125,000 or more. Adding a 12-inch cap to an existing seawall can cost up to $125 per linear foot.
The new rules will apply to all new seawall construction and to those who need a new seawall or need to replace a failing seawall that’s badly damaged or too low to keep water at bay. The new height rules will apply to public seawalls too. But out of the 200 miles of seawalls in Fort Lauderdale, only 2%, or 4.4 miles, are city owned. The rest belong to private owners.
Some say the price tag will be too high and they will be forced to sell their home. One homeowner with a crumbling seawall declined to comment on the record for fear of sending out a red alert to Fort Lauderdale’s code enforcement officers that his property wasn’t up to code.
On Hunt For Damaged Seawalls
Fort Lauderdale has been sending its code officers out in force in search of seawalls that need repair or replacing. City officials say they could use some help and are encouraging residents to call the city’s 24-hour hotline at 954-828-8000 to report failing seawalls. But reporting a neighbor could lead to neighborhood feuds, local residents say.
Mayor Dean Trantalis told the South Florida Sun Sentinel he first heard about the new height rules a few weeks ago when staff mentioned it during a commission conference meeting.
“The rule change is definitely going to impose a financial burden on a lot of people,” Mayor Trantalis said. “I’m not sure the coastal cities had much input in this conversation. I think the county might want to revisit their ordinance. It is a steep expectation of property owners. We are all concerned about climate change but draconian measures like these do not allow for community input.”
To help get the word out, Fort Lauderdale hosted a virtual meeting on Feb. 1 called “Do I Have to Raise My Seawall?” The one-hour meeting included a detailed presentation followed by a Q&A session.
“Seawalls are the first defense against sea level rise,” Nancy Gassman, an assistant public works director with a doctorate in coastal ecosystems, told her online audience.
In March 2020, Broward County passed an ordinance setting minimum seawall standards for more than a dozen cities susceptible to high-tide flooding, Gassman explained. The county gave those cities two years to adopt the standards, which are now part of the county’s land-use plan.
One resident asked whether the city, state or federal government was offering a bailout or grants to help homeowners repair their seawalls. The short answer: No.
“The city has looked for that,” Gassman said. “To date, we have not found any of those opportunities available. The city is not providing any monetary incentives for property owners to raise their seawalls. That’s the responsibility of the property owner. We will cite someone if they have a fence in significant disrepair. And in our view, a seawall is no different than having a dilapidated roof or a fence that’s falling down. Nine other cities in Broward have already embraced the new seawall heights.”
‘We’re In A Catch-22′
John Fiore, chair of the county’s Marine Advisory Board and president of the East Neighborhood Association in Wilton Manors, was alarmed to hear his city has already passed the new height rules.
“That’s going to bankrupt everyone on the river,” Fiore said. “You’d have to rip out the whole seawall and put a new one in. That would cost a quarter of a million dollars.”
The way Fiore sees it, the new seawall heights represent an unfunded mandate on the backs of property owners.
“I couldn’t afford it,” Fiore said. “Most of my neighbors couldn’t afford it. It will kill the property values. No one is going to want to move in and have to build a seawall that’s going to cost $250,000.”
In the past few months, Fort Lauderdale has cited at least four properties in Las Olas Isles for having seawalls in various stages of disrepair.
Debby Eisinger, president of the Hendricks Isle/Isle of Venice Neighborhood Association, defended the city for being proactive in doing its part to protect against climate change.
“We’re in a Catch-22,” Eisinger said. “We realize it’s a big financial burden to property owners, but this is Mother Nature taking over with rising waters. Sea level rise has been taking place for years. It’s no secret. We can’t stop the water from rising. So what is the answer? We need to be proactive, not reactive.”