Letter: Shaver provides hard-earned perspectives to Upchurch

Historic City News obtained a copy of a recent email sent by Mayor Nancy Shaver to St Augustine Mayor Tracy Upchurch upon their return from the American Flood Coalition Summit in Washington, DC.  Mayor Shaver, who was elected, and twice re-elected by citizens who respected her ability to address tough problems, spent much of her energy on what she sees as one of the greatest dangers to the city, its business owners, property owners, and residents — sea level rise.

This is the complete text of the e-mail:


It was so good to spend time with you at the American Flood Coalition Summit and get to know you better. As you continue to lead the City through this challenge, you will find this group to be a valuable and credible resource. As I said, I will continue to engage in this issue when I return to St. Augustine and plan to be helpful.

Rather than share tomes of details—here are a few hard-earned perspectives which I hope are useful to you.

Sea level rise working assumption:

Although there are many ways to think about the coming rising waters, the conservative approach is not to “go low” especially when we are fortunate enough to have a robust study from 2016, “Coastal Vulnerability Assessment: City of Saint Augustine, Florida”.  You mentioned that the studies are a bit opaque and I agree.

Here’s a cheat sheet on two vital areas:

1.   How much will our seas rise and when?

To be conservatively using the NOAA high model we need to prepare for 1 foot of rise by 2030, a scant 10 years away, and 2-2.5 feet by 2040-50.

The Dewberry maps in the study include a range of sea level rise depictions. They need to be enlarged like the one I gave you (Lucy is your resource for printing) and can drill down to each neighborhood.

The Union of Concerned Scientists used the same model and has partnered with Zillow to show the impact on real estate. The data is now distributing to consumers and the realtors.  (https://www.ucsusa.org/about/news/25-million-homes-threatened-high-tide-flooding)

I encourage you to spend time with section four (beginning page 20) of “Coastal Vulnerability”. It makes clear that time is not on our side with this challenge.

The “tipping point” is 2-2.5 feet for our roads, bridges, water and wastewater—and in many ways more essential- our architectural icons including Flagler College.

Note: The FEMA unfunded request for temporary hurricane protection is not a solution for our low lying (1.5 feet) wastewater plant.

2.   How do we move forward effectively?

We are behind, and we didn’t need to be.

At the Summit, Del Ray Beach had a clear crisp story and a dollar ask.  We have the “Coast Assessment” and a retained engineering firm, but I was not able to move that vital effort forward. I hope you can.

We should at least be on a par with Del Ray Beach.

Another hard-won insight.

The Army Corp ”solution” -not likely.

First, the Corp models deeply understates sea level rise so represent high risk if used as a benchmark. AFC can confirm that in detail for you. Their timelines for any work are extended, adding additional risk.

This is well known by staff.

Regan, Cullum and I met twice with the Corp. In the first meeting the “Back Bay Study” cost and the multi-year timeline were described. We determined that neither were realistic. We then met with the Corp head in Jacksonville. We were advised to engage a private firm and that Corp assistance was unlikely. We were referrers to some credible private firms. It appears that staff did not take that advice.

On another note, it was an embarrassment in front of Congressman Rutherford (with whom I have met twice on the issue) to hear Cullum refer to “historical property value” when that value is not considered by the Corp as we were informed earlier.

Next steps?

The first step, as I mentioned is to be on par with Del Ray Beach, and have a credible cost estimate for adaptation.

The City could also consider naming a Chief Resiliency Officer reporting directly to the Commission. This would mirror the State structure. In my travels I came across some impressive people who might serve well.

One more item:

I had mentioned “adaptation action areas.” My recollection is that it is a “three floods you’re out” mechanism that allows for the buyout of homes that are flooded. It has been used in Jacksonville and Hollywood as I recall and may be useful in our flood prone area. I found this link which may be useful. https://southeastfloridaclimatecompact.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/final-report-aaa.pdf

As you continue your work on this challenge, I would consider Alec Bogdanon from AFC as an honest broker and a solid resource.  Alec is a meteorologist educated at either MIT or Harvard, and clearly his mother is a well-respected lobbyist as you saw. Professor Bonder and others at Flagler College are versed in the issue and were helpful to me.

I’d suggest you print a copy of the “Coastal Vulnerability Assessment”; it is my bible. Of course, it goes without saying that I will continue to be a voice on this issue and happy to be a resource for you (after my next medical journey).

My very best and good luck,