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Coastal Vulnerability

With a majority of the city being located in a flood plain, the City of St. Augustine is proactively identifying areas of risks as it relates to the inevitable effects of sea level rise.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) Community Resiliency Initiative selected the city of St. Augustine to participate as one of three pilot communities to study the city’s vulnerability to coastal flooding and to assist the city in identifying steps that can be taken to help the city adapt to those vulnerabilities.

The project began in 2016 with a series of meetings and workshops with the DEO consultant, Dewberry and resulted in two deliverables from the prject: 1) Coastal Vulnerability Assessment and, 2) the Strategic Adaptation Plan.

What we learned

There is a degree of uncertainty on the rate of sea level rise (SLR).  We are certain that it is happening, but not certain of just how high and when it will occur.  Some projections have it coming faster than others.

Areas that are currently subjected to nuisance flooding (sunny day flooding) are expected to occur daily with high tides between the years 2040-2100. (This assumes 1.5 feet of sea level rise)

The city’s wastewater treatment plant would have increasing vulnerability if sea level were to rise between 2 and 4 ft.

The uncertainties associated with sea level rise require the city to take a pragmatic approach as to how it proceeds with addressing the vulnerabilities identified in this report.

What we are doing now

The Planning and Building Department is ready to incorporate the adaptation plan and evaluate adopting appropriate Goals, Objectives and Policies into the City’s Comprehensive Plan through the upcoming Evaluation and Appraisal process.  This process will take place over the next two (2) years.

The Public Works Department is working on several projects, such as the tide check valves, to help reduce the sunny-day “nuisance” flooding in streets.  Additionally, the department will be conducting a more detailed vulnerability analysis of the wastewater treatment plant so as to develop flood-proofing and hardening against tidal surge. 

Additionally, the city is working on its first stormwater pump station for Lake Maria Sanchez with anticipated federal funding assistance.  In the long-term, the city is looking to raise all of the sewer pump stations in order to “floodproof” those located in the flood plain.  Thirteen stations were damaged in Hurricane Matthew and will all be reconstructed or rehabilitated and then raised so as to be resilient against future storm surge or tidal inundation.

What we can do in the future

Actions for the future include:

  • Educate the public and businesses and property owners about the impacts of sea level rise and educate them on policy responses to expect in the future – such as disclosures in real estate transactions, or capacity and condition of coastal armoring (seawalls) or in land use planning and development.
  • Collect more data and establish baseline budgets to included expected future costs.  Recommend cost benefit analysis on every capital project so as to protect and conserve costs.
  • Adopt level of service standards. Adopt policy to limit spending where retreat or redesign would be more cost-effective than reconstruction.
  • Make targeted upgrades to stormwater management system, in a systematic approach.  Do not invest in expensive forms of improvements that will be undermined by SLR.
  • Clarify options for the wastewater treatment plant.
  • Engage the FDOT in discussions about state plans for SLR on roads and bridges.
  • Modify the historic preservation comprehensive plan element to better allow for the decisions ahead.