At the suggestion of a Blue Ribbon task force and with the support of Mayor Philip Levine and City Manager Jimmy Morales, the City is taking steps to mitigate for the worst possible flooding in its most at-risk zones and elsewhere.
Additionally, the city action is just a year or so in advance of what could conceivably be the highest rise in tides in recent years, a somewhat mysterious natural occurrence known as the King Tides.
“Personally I think previous administrations totally tuned out,” said Scott Robins, chair of the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Flooding Mitigation and Sea Level Rise.
Robins said that in reviewing the available data, it was obvious that the problem of flooding was not properly evaluated by previous administrations and city commissions.
“I don’t think they took the time to realize what studies revealed and think they just sat on their hands,” Robins said. “Studies are only as good as who commissions them.”
In particular, Robins said that the drainage components of development projects under works and in the pipeline, citywide, are “under-designed.
“At the first meeting of the task force, the first action [discussed] was that any project under construction had to be stopped,” and the drainage component redesigned, Robins added.
Robins said that often not considered frequently or considerably enough previously was the level of expectation of residents when it comes to flooding and mitigation for it. Robins – both a preservationist and developer – also pointed out that the reason for inadequate design guidelines for drainage is not because the cost could have been considered burdensome to development interests.
Based on recommendations the task force submitted to the City officially, Robins said, “We’re talking about a $6 million drainage project having cost $7 million. Question: Is it too expensive? Answer: No.”
Discussing expected drainage need issues is always a challenge because no one really knows what will happen in terms of sea level rise, which obviously impacts a city made up of barrier islands. Any solution would only be for the forseeable future because, “The science is not all in,” Robins said. “Scientists can’t even agree; we all need another 10-15 years to really know.”
Factoring into need are the King Tides, unusually high tides that science seems to believe, are caused by an uncommon astral alliance and thus predictable. They are expected to occur in the next year or so and could affect sea level.
A February 7 memo from the Blue Ribbon task force to the mayor and commission and to City Manager Jimmy Morales, takes previous administrations to task for inadequate planning for flood mitigation and makes a number of recommendations. The most significant of the recommendations the change to was an increase in development standards for drainage projects.”
In a February 12 commission memorandum from Morales to the mayor and commission, the city manager advocates for adoption of the new guidelines for new tailwater requirements in design guidelines as recommended by the task force. The city commission subsequently adopted the new guidelines.
“It starts us on the road to new [drainage mitigation] requirements,” Robins said.
In that memo, Morales wrote of three neighborhoods in “active construction” – Central Bayshore, Lake Pancoast and the Venetian Islands : “This new criteria might have a significant impact on the design and construction of the above referenced projects,” Morales wrote. “The City shall determine if these criteria shall be applicable to these projects.”
Morales did not return a call seeking additional comments on the task force’s recommendations and City actions.
While the City action adopts one recommendation of the task force, others remain, and the tailwater change suggestion only looks 20 years down the road as best known. Robins still said that the situation is not dire.
“They are all solvable problems,” Robins told SunPost. “They won’t cost an arm and a leg – they are expensive but all well within our capacity to afford and to implement.”
Robins said he hopes the City will hire an international expert as a consultant as a next action.
Fortunately, Robins said he sees this administration as being motivated to address problems previous ones were not. He praised Mayor Philip Levine and a city staff that seems “energized” after years of being beaten down, presumably by city hall scandals and alleged criminal activity in the previous city manager’s office.
“One of my most pleasant surprises has been the staff,” Robins said. “All of them have been on the ball and up to the task. They have responded at a higher level than I expected.”