Flagler Beach: Mainland, Island, or Peninsula
It may interest you to know that Flagler Beach is not an island like the naturally formed barrier islands one associates with the Atlantic Ocean coastline. It was originally part of the mainland. According to a report entitled THE COMMISSIONERS OF THE FLORIDA INLAND NAVIGATION DISTRICT ANNOUNCE THE COMPLETION OF THE FLORIDA INTRACOASTAL WATERWAY, JACKSONVILLE TO MIAMI BEACH, published in 1935, construction of a continuous waterway was “the natural outgrowth of an effort to develop the almost connected chain of creeks, rivers, lakes and sounds along Florida’s east coast into one continuous waterway.”
Surveys of the area began in 1844, but almost 40 years passed before the privately-owned Canal Company commenced construction in 1881. (Our county’s namesake, Henry M. Flagler, was a company investor.) To encourage the development of railways, the Canal Company received a grant from the State that allocated 3,840 acres of land for each canal mile constructed. By the time the last cut was completed in St. Augustine in 1912, the Canal Company had received 1,030,128 acres for 338 miles of canal. (Who wouldn’t want to be in on that deal today?)
The original charter for the canal included specifications of a 5-foot depth and 50-foot width, but this goal was not always reached, making the canal unprofitable. Some public figures wanted the Federal government to take possession, and in 1927 the Florida Legislature created the Florida Inland Navigation District (FIND) to take ownership and make improvements. The channel was widened to 100 feet and had an 8-foot depth at low tide. For one-hundred years the Intracoastal Waterway has been used by business and pleasure-craft alike.
It did come at a cost to the natural environment however. Wetlands were destroyed, and now Flagler Beach is vulnerable to flooding on two fronts: the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway.
Hurricanes generally approach Flagler Beach either from the Caribbean Sea up the Atlantic Coast, or across the Florida peninsula from the Gulf of Mexico. Some may find comfort in knowing that Flagler Beach has never taken a direct hit from an Atlantic Ocean hurricane, unless you take the pessimistic view that it means we are way overdue for one! To track an imminent hurricane, the National Weather Service’s online site www.nhc.noaa.gov posts current information. To learn more about Flagler County’s hurricane history however, there is an interesting private (i.e., non-governmental) online site that provides storm data based on records dating back to 1871. This site, www.hurricanecity.com, lets the user query on a specific city, and then provides a list of past hurricanes by year. According to this site, the longest gap between storms in Flagler Beach was 18 years, from 1982-2001. Our ratio of tropical storms to hurricanes is 69:31, and the City gets brushed or hit, on average, every 2.73 years.
In August of 2008, Tropical Storm Fay moved slowly north from the Caribbean Sea, then moved in an easterly direction across south and central Florida, before heading out to the Atlantic Ocean. But it wasn’t goodbye. TS Fay curved westward and made landfall again, this time near Flagler Beach. Sustained winds along the coast were between 40 and 50 miles per hour (mph), with gusts in the 60 to 65 mph range. Rainfall was close to 15 inches in various parts of Flagler County. Storm surge approached 2 to 4 feet. Areal flooding occurred over much of north Florida, with numerous downed trees and power lines. Fay was a tropical storm and not a hurricane because its wind speeds were less than the 74 mph required for a Category 1 Hurricane.