Hurricane Nicole 1 year later, Volusia eroded beachscape continues recovery
One year ago, a Category 1 hurricane was approaching Florida's east coast.
Joe Ryan, the general manager of Chases on the Beach in New Smyrna, knows the power a Cat 1 can bring.
"It was absolutely devastating," he said. "We got hit by Ian, which damaged us, and then Nicole just kind of did that wipeout well before we could even get started repairing."
On this day last year, Hurricane Nicole made landfall near Vero Beach, but its storm surge and heavy rainfall pelted Volusia County. Residents were already reeling from the damages of Hurricane Ian, which hit a little over 40 days earlier.
Nicole pushed heavy storm surges and flood waters onto Volusia Beaches damaging over 600 buildings, about 23 of which were destroyed, according to the county’s property appraiser, totaling $500 million in damages for the county.
Chases on The Beach was one of those structures. The restaurant has been a New Smyrna community staple for about 30 years but the combination of Ian and Nicole swept the sand underneath the deck via a powerful surge, leaving the restaurant's beach legs without ground to stand on. The structure leaned and partly collapsed.
The restaurant remained closed for 244 days.
New Smyrna and Daytona Beach Shores were among the properties to experience the most damage in the county, according to Volusia data. But Nicolemanaged to drive inland to the west part of Volusia, too.
"Even along the St. John's with the water that was incurred from the two storms and over in the Astor area and Deltona to bury those areas that were all impacted by high water," said Clint Mecham, director of Volusia County emergency management. "It was all over the county."
Recovery has been slow, but ongoing, Mecham said.
"These are long drawn-out processes, unfortunately," he said. "We've got numerous mitigation projects that are underway. We're working with our state partners and our federal partners, FEMA, and the Florida Division of Emergency Management to try and make sure that we can serve our citizens here that we're impacted, as best we can, and facilitate things as fast as we can."
One of the county's priority items is working to mitigate vulnerable communities from flood water, as well as repairing the seawall that was lost to the storm surge.
Ryan is waiting for permit approval to build a new seawall and stairs leading down to the beach. Ryan hopes the permits will be finalized in the next month or so, completing construction by January. In the meantime, the restaurant has already undergone large changes since Nicole.
Chase’s layout is completely redesigned after Nicole's water-eroding forces altered the Volusia shoreline. Ryan thinks it is for the best as the change has let the restaurant grow in a new direction.
"Chases After Dark,'" Ryan said. "It's a white tablecloth-type upscale dining experience with a whole different menu than what we normally have during the day."
After Dark is from 5 to 10 p.m. and is something Ryan thought was missing from the New Smyrna Beach area. The After Dark experience is complete with a new menu featuring (Ryan's favorite) bourbon-glazed salmon.
"I feel pretty good about this place. You know? Especially with the way this place was constructed, I don't see it going anywhere," he said.
The 2023 hurricane season ends after Nov. 30.