Fort Benning Public Affairs
FORT BENNING, Ga. – The seawall battered by a 2018 hurricane at the scenic Destin Army Recreation Area resort in Florida is about to get fixed.
The seawall, marina and much else at the gated resort in Florida's northwest panhandle took a thrashing when Hurricane Michael tore through the region in October 2018.
The resort, about 220 miles south of Fort Benning, takes up 15 acres along Choctawhatchee Bay, about two miles north of the Gulf of Mexico.
The hurricane made a shambles of the marina, washed away whole sections of the seawall, and shifted so much sand and silt into the boating channel that leads to the marina that few boats can currently pass through, with some needing to be towed through and others unable to get through at all.
"It kinda made a mess," James Shoemaker, business operations and community recreation officer with U.S. Army Garrison Fort Benning's Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (DFMWR), said of the hurricane.
"The dock was completely destroyed," he said. "It was unusable until we replaced it. And then the entire marina had a variety of damage throughout. Anything that was close to the water kinda got tore up. So there's probably 10 or so boat launch slips in there, and the places where we have our jet skis, and there are several sets of steps that went down into the water, that were destroyed.
"Basically anything that wasn't rather new, it broke parts of it," said Shoemaker.
"Our channel was almost completely filled in. And we had a lot of boats that could not get into our marina any more. Some boats have to be towed in. A lot of them, you have to keep the motor up out of the water. So that was another big thing, having our channel filled in."
Getting the seawall back in shape is crucial, he said.
It lies mostly below water to a depth of 17 feet, and hugs the resort's earthen shoreline, encasing it in a kind of aluminum shield. It prevents the constant motion of the water from reaching, and eating away at, the dirt on which Destin is built.
"It's essentially like a retaining wall," said Shoemaker. " It stops erosion. If we didn't have the seawall, you'd eventually erode the entire property away."
The first stage of the recovery focused on repairing the marina, "all the stuff that involved wood," said Shoemaker, "and that was taken care of and fixed," as of last fall, he said.
After the seawall is repaired, plans call for dredging the boating channel, a project still in the design stage, he said.
A contract to fix the seawall was awarded in April, with a projected cost of around $1 million, Shoemaker said.
Work was to have begun two to three months ago, but the COVID-19 pandemic led to delays in filling orders for certain supplies needed for the seawall repair, he said.
"COVID has just slowed things down, constantly," he said.
But those and other supplies are expected soon, and meanwhile, some limited work began last week, Shoemaker said.
Work on the seawall is expected to finish in about four months.
The resort is currently open for business.
It offers two- and three-bedroom villas, one-bedroom suites, hotels and studios, a recreational vehicle site, and a full-service marina. It's open year-round to active duty and retired military personnel, their families, and Defense Department civilians.
"The main road in Destin is 98 and it travels all along the coast," said Shoemaker, in a reference to the U.S. highway. "And on both sides of that road, every tourist thing you can think of is there, all the big hotels, all the fun parks, and what you want to do when you're on vacation, it's all right there.
"And our place is essentially in a residential neighborhood on the Choctawhatchee Bay," he said. "So it's just off the beaten path and it's quiet, a nice residential neighborhood," he said. "It's a great place to stay, and that's kind of your base camp for going to Destin, and then you can go to the public beaches, or restaurants, or whatever you want to do."