Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Hurricane Recovery - St. Joseph

Has DEP decided what to do with the park?

After reviewing these comments and thoroughly evaluating all options, DEP decided the best course of action is to restore the beach and dune system, conserve the shoals adjacent to the breach site, rebuild the access road, restore the utility lines, and repair overnight accommodations and staff housing. This path forward will incorporate coastal resiliency concepts to ensure the park is able to recover quickly from any future severe storm events.

Has the breach become more severe since the storm?

No, just the opposite.

Immediately following the storm, the breach was approximately 1,000 feet wide and 20+ feet deep. However, the currents have naturally deposited sand over the past eight months, and as of May 26, 2019, the park has been reconnected at the breach site.

Has the breach impacted salinity levels in St. Joseph Bay?

Following Hurricane Michael, the salinity measured by DEP’s water monitoring sites in St. Joseph Bay was lower than all previously recorded at these locations. The salinity continued to drop, but over the past few months has begun to increase to salinity ranges similar to previous data collected. This salinity change has coincided with the natural reconnection of the park at the breach site.

Has the park experienced this type of breach in the past?

No, this was a non-historical occurrence.

How will this better protect coastal resources and support coastal resiliency?

Stabilizing the beach and dune system will help promote park resiliency and the ability to adapt to future conditions such as sea level rise.

What are the impacts of this breach?

The breach severed the 2,790-acre park 1 mile north of the entrance, leaving 8.5 miles of park as an island, leaving the campground and cabins inaccessible. While the park has been reconnected at the breach site, the main road through the park was damaged during the hurricane and the areas north of the breach site remain inaccessible.

What are the next steps?

Using sand from the offshore borrow area, a contractor, in coordination with DEP, will place an estimated 150,000 cubic yards of sand in the park to help stabilize and restore the beach and dune system. Based on the current schedule, we anticipate work at the park will begin in October and last approximately 10 days.

Following the restoration of the beach and dune system, DEP will address the park’s roads, utilities and infrastructure impacted by the hurricane. This path forward will include coastal resiliency concepts to ensure the park is able to recover quickly from any future severe storm events.

What damage did the park sustain?

T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park in Gulf County suffered significant damage from Hurricane Michael, including impacts to the park’s roads, utilities and facilities.

The storm also caused a breach through the park that connected the Gulf of Mexico to St. Joseph Bay. The breach severed the 2,790-acre park 1 mile north of the entrance, leaving 8.5 miles of park as an island.

What is a breach and what causes it?

During a storm, rising storm surge inundates the beach system. During the period of inundation, currents and waves carry large volumes of sand from the seaward to the landward side of the island. When water levels subside, currents may reverse direction carrying sediment from sounds and bays back to the open ocean. These strong currents may carve a channel in the island, causing the island to be bisected in a process known as breaching. Small breaches often naturally fill with sand in the months following the storm.

What measures will be taken to ensure protection of the environment and wildlife while restoring the breach and dune system?

DEP is committed to ensuring that impacts to wildlife are avoided during the beach nourishment process and to conserving the shoals adjacent to the breach site.

The Department will establish a multi-agency working group consisting of DEP, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Northwest Florida Water Management District. The goal of this workgroup will be to leverage guidance and efforts across the agencies to continue to protect Florida’s environment.

What options are DEP considering regarding the future of the park?

In determining the path forward, DEP must consider the balance of recreational, environmental and cultural preservation.

DEP hosted meetings on January 15 and April 30, 2019, for the public to provide input on recovery efforts at the park. We also encouraged citizens, visitors and stakeholders to share comments with DEP via telephone, email and/or postal mail. More than 200 public comments were received by DEP.

Out of this process, there emerged six options that were evaluated:

  • Closing the breach and rebuilding the park north of the breach
  • Leaving the breach to natural processes and rebuilding the park north of the breach
  • Leaving the breach to natural processes and discontinuing facilities north of the beach
  • Maintaining the breach and rebuilding the park north of the breach
  • Maintaining the breach and discontinuing facilities north of the breach
  • Close the breach and discontinue facilities north of the breach

Where will the sand for the beach and dune project come from?

To protect the shoals, sand for the beach nourishment will be taken from an existing offshore borrow area. This borrow areas is the same that will be used in the upcoming Gulf County beach restoration project.

DEP currently has funding available that will be used to partner with Gulf County to leverage their upcoming beach restoration project to help lower the cost associated with the park’s beach and dune project.

Why does DEP believe this is the best course of action?

This path encourages sustainable public use while reducing impacts to coastal resources and habitats.

Now that the park has been reconnected at the breach site, DEP can begin efforts to restore access to 90% of the park that includes overnight accommodations, a popular water-access day use area, networks of interpretive trails and boardwalks, and a nearly 2,100-acre designated Wilderness Preserve.

Last year, the park welcomed approximately 261,000 visitors who collectively contributed over $21 million to the local economy. This spending supports over 300 jobs in the area. The park’s natural areas and sandy beaches provide opportunities for resource-based outdoor recreation and conservation for the enjoyment of Florida residents and visitors.

Will closing the breach help protect wildlife?

The park is home to wide range of wildlife, including imperiled species. If the breach is not closed, some of these species, such as the endangered beach mouse, will become isolated. The natural closing of the breach will restore access and allow us to monitor and reduce the threat to nesting shorebirds.

Would dredging and maintaining the breach benefit the bay?

While more research is needed to definitively determine the if the closure may be contributing to the return of previously measured salinity levels, previous statewide post-storm monitoring does not support a benefit of maintaining the breach.