Irma damages compounded by effects of sea level rise

Hurricane Irma has left residents soaked, frustrated, and, some tell Historic City News, worried about the future.  Irma whipped trees out of the ground and poured more water into homes and businesses that were just getting back to normal after Hurricane Matthew.

The back-to-back hits from Hurricane Matthew, which left residents ripping out walls and replacing sodden furniture last October, and Irma, earlier this week, were the first major hurricanes to descend on St Augustine since Hurricane Dora in the 1960s.

“St. Augustine’s sunny day nuisance flooding has compounded the effects of sea level rise,” St Augustine Mayor Nancy Shaver told Historic City News local reporters.  “We’re actually ahead of many small coastal towns.”

Mayor Shaver, an advocate for addressing sea level rise, said it was incumbent on the city to find better ways to protect its low-lying areas.

“I’ve never had people ask me the questions they’re asking me now,” Shaver said in a recent news interview.  “What are we going to do with the city?  Is this the new normal?”

In some ways, St. Augustine has already begun to adapt to its new normal, if that is what it is.

“I know it’s an act of nature, but to be hit twice within a year, it makes you wonder what’s happening in nature,” 76-year-old resident Linda O’Shields remarked.  “Is it cyclical? Am I to believe global warming? I don’t know.”

Shaver says the City of St Augustine is doing what it can to handle new threats.  However, no preparation we can take will stop a hurricane, or storm surge from flooding our low-lying city.

  • It has begun installing valves to keep seawater from flowing into storm water drains, which helps prevent the sunny day nuisance flooding.
  • It has been studying a plan to dredge the Maria Sanchez Lake and install a pump station to help with flooding there.

But by 2030, Shaver says the wastewater plant will be vulnerable to flooding.  Relocating it is a $100 million project in a city with a $50 million annual budget.

“We know there are big things we need to do,” Shaver told reporters.  “We know what they are. We don’t have funding mechanisms for them.”

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