Saturday, April 08, 2017

T-U Sunday Editorial: St. Augustine’s mayor deserves praise for addressing sea level rise

We're blessed to have a magnificent, thoughtful, ethical, intelligent Mayor of St. Augustine, Florida, the Honorable Nancy E. Shaver.

Posted April 7, 2017 07:41 pm
By Jacksonville, Florida Times-Union editorial board
Sunday Editorial: St. Augustine’s mayor deserves praise for addressing sea level rise

Nuisance flooding can be seen at the corner of Washington and South adjacent to Lake Maria Sanchez in St. Augustine, a result of sea level rise. It’s happening more often, which will force the city to make major changes in its stormwater systems.

Never mind the battles over terminology, science and ideology, the water is rising in St. Augustine.

The storm surge from Hurricane Matthew extended all the way to U.S. 1. And that wasn’t even a direct hit.

Mayor Nancy Shaver, a businessperson by trade, has no time for debates over terminology. The fact remains that St. Augustine has a public works and infrastructure problem.

The sea is reclaiming part of the city. It’s just a matter of how much. There is some time, but the longer the city waits to act the fewer choices there will be.

So Shaver has helped create and lead a group called Resiliency Florida. The title says it all. Florida, where 75 percent of the population lives along the coast, needs to prepare for the impact of rising seas and more frequent extreme storms.

Warnings pop up in unexpected places.

During one of Shaver’s walks in the community, a resident pointed out a storm drain with sea urchins.

“It means the sea water is coming back frequently enough that sea urchins can survive,” she said.

To ignore it would be an incredible act of irresponsibility toward our children and grandchildren.

In an interview with the Times-Union Editorial Board, Shaver said she first ran for office in large part because of the city’s infrastructure needs.

Stormwater needs

An assessment gave the stormwater system of St. Augustine a grade of D.

A stormwater master plan avoided all talk of pump stations because the city, on a $50 million annual budget, couldn’t afford to replace them.

St. Augustine has just 14,000 people, and 35 percent of the 10-square mile land area is nontaxable, nonprofit owners. Taxing authority is reserved to the state.

“We’re sitting here looking at big things,” Shaver said.

So Shaver encouraged the city to hire the University of Florida to conduct a study of sea level rise challenges using two grants from the state. That study was a rare move in this state.

She met with Gov. Rick Scott and was told not to talk about climate change. That’s the first thing she did, but she talked more about public works, providing services to her constituents, businessperson to businessperson.

Once you avoided the toxic terminology, Scott was OK with that approach.

“To me, government is a service business, and we have to be sure we can deliver those services,” said Shaver, who takes a refreshing common sense approach to issues.

“If you take all the ideology out of it, then it’s a municipal problem to solve.”

So what’s the first service to go when the sea level rises? Water and sewer, specifically stormwater outflows and sewage treatment.

“Water doesn’t run uphill,” Shaver said.

St. Augustine’s major sewage treatment plant at Maria Sanchez Creek is right in the cross hairs of sea level rise.

Maria Sanchez Creek is what Henry Flagler built, and now the sea may take it back. Davis Shores was built all on fill.

Relocating a sewage treatment plant will cost more than $100 million, which is a heavy lift for a small city, in fact any small Florida coastal city.

Hurricanes help raise public consciousness. Hurricane Matthew’s 7-foot storm surge produced the kind of flooding that would be commonplace with a 3-foot level of sea level rise, Shaver said.

Resiliency factors are being included in the city’s comprehensive plans. And because most planning relies on the past for projects, we’re living in an age when past is not predictive.

We’re going to have to make estimates based on possibilities.

Say what the problem is, quantify it as best you can and then start figuring out what to do, Shaver said. “There may be places you have to abandon,” she added.

The first priority are the easy solutions, what Shaver called “duct tape solutions.”

Financial issues

More difficult will be financing the big public works projects like dealing with the 17 outfalls for Davis Shores. That will cost $613,000, a lot of money but manageable over time, Shaver said.

The idea is to stop the backflow.

This won’t help much with hurricanes, but it will help with nuisance flooding.

The time for ignoring all of this will soon end, pushed by property insurance companies and bond rating agencies.

Moody’s sent a questionnaire to Virginia Beach asking for the city’s resiliency plans for sea level rise, Shaver said.

“It is the financial markets that focus on risk that will force this to the public consciousness,” she said. “Insurance rates will start rising. There will be areas where mortgages will be either too expensive or impossible to get.”

Make no mistake, this is an existential threat to Florida’s economy.

“You’ve got 1,300 miles of coastline in Florida and a tourism-driven economy,” Shaver said. “Our beaches may be in the middle of asphalt parking lots.”

So the question is clear:

What kind of state do we want to turn over to our children and grandchildren?

Photo credits: St. Augustine Record, Times-Union, Walter Coker, Historic City News, Folio Weekly, News4Jax,

Ed's note: the sea urchin sighting in Davis Shores was in 2014, before the election and before Hurricane Matthew.
When the going gets tough, the tough support the St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore.
Preserve our history and nature forever, inviolate. Illegitimi non carborundum.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful...I am proud of Nancy's courage and foresight! However, yawn...hmm big costs in store for small city...yes sir but sure..keep approving new hotel roomks in the City and good lord don't charge the rich developers extra money to help nullify them overloading our already overburnded sewer system or address the extra storm water run off caused by paving over the land.

I admire Nancy but highly doubt that this backward city is capable of fixing say I am being negative? Ok...lets look at the great fix we had regarding traffic after we spent over $100,000 to study it...oh wait..I'm sorry my mistake. Traffic is worse now than ever. Go St Augustine...a city that leads the way...hahahaha. uh huh sure...

Clara Waldhari said...

Thank you so much for posting this, Ed! I missed it. Now it's going on my Facebook page! I am so proud of Mayor Nancy Shaver. She IS in a 21st-century mindset and has, is, and will take St. Augustine to soaring heights. Proud to say I voted for her twice. Would do so AGAIN!

What people such as the above anonymouse poster, above, must realize is that Mayor Shaver inherited most of the mess from former Mayor Joe Boles and three sitting commissioners. Fact. Cannot be rewritten. That she has moved forward to tackle issues (e.g., traffic -- a problem since the 19th century!), including sea-level rise, is a testament to her awareness, intelligence, and vision.

BRAVA!!! You make us proud! Keep up the great work!

Clara Waldhari

Ed Slavin said...

Thank you, Clara! I am honored.

Wonder how long the sea urchins were in the storm sewers in Davis Shores.

It sort of reminds me of what the Mississippi Supreme Court said in 1918 that it could "imagine no reason why, with ordinary care human toes could not be left out of chewing tobacco, and if toes are found in chewing tobacco, it seems to us that somebody has been very careless.” Pillars v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 78 So. 365 (Miss. 1918).

Warren Celli said...

The Times Union, noted for its role as a make up artist that consistently puts lip stick on the pig of Xtrevilism.

Kudos anonymous, keep hammering!

It sort of reminds me of when Folio Weekly got co-opted by big money, gave Anne Schindler the boot and named revolving door sack of crap John Delaney 'man of the year' in the next issue. Gag me with a spoon!

Corrupt laws with selective enforcement.

Corrupt media with selective news.