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City Council Committees Pass Sea Level Rise Task Force Recommendations

Downtown Jacksonville experienced flooding during Hurricane Irma in 2017.
Downtown Jacksonville experienced flooding during Hurricane Irma in 2017.

A pair of Jacksonville City Council committees passed recommendations made by a state mandated sea level rise task force Wednesday.

The Adaptation Action Area (AAA) Working Group wrote up more than 40 recommendations for the city in its meetings in 2019, but three overarching recommendations were listed in Resolution 2019-0893:

1.Expand AAA boundaries to reflect Jacksonville’s unique interconnected coastal and riverine system, and implement adaptation strategies commensurate with the storm and flood risks.

2. Hire or appoint a Chief Resiliency Officer or establish a resiliency office or similar agency or authority.

3.Fund and conduct a thorough vulnerability assessment to define the level of impact and to identify the people, infrastructure, habitats and functions that may be affected.

The resolution was approved unanimously by both the Rules Committee and the Land Use and Zoning Committee.

Shannon Blankinship, Advocacy Director for the St. Johns Riverkeeper, who was a working group member for AAA, said of the three recommendations, adding a Chief Resiliency Officer is most essential to helping the city become more prepared for rising sea levels.

“The chief resiliency officer’s role is primarily to coordinate between all different departments within the city of Jacksonville, but then also bring in the work of our independent authorities as well as our regional planners and even state interest,” said Blankinship. “If you don’t have someone in charge of that, coordinating across different departments and bringing in all of the different interests  that have a role to play in becoming a more resilient city, then what you have are a lot of decisions being made in silos.”

Several areas of Florida have hired local chief resilience officers, including Broward County, Miami-Dade County, and Orlando.

“I do think that one of the benefits of being where we are right now is that we don’t need to re-invent the wheel with ‘What is a chief resiliency officer?’,” Blankinship said. “Being able to see all of the other cities in the state of Florida, and in most counties, and even very small cities that have all brought on a chief resiliency officer to help with coordination of these really important initiatives is that, you know, we can very quickly put together a job description and bring someone in here in Jacksonville to do this work.”

AAA worked on expanding the boundaries mapped as high hazard areas, which are extremely susceptible to storm surge and rising waters. The group looked at the issue in the scope of the next 60 years with projected sea level rise to incorporate more land further inland. They decided to use the map of impact zones of a category three hurricane storm surge, along with input from several local entities to create the new expanded boundary.

With the vulnerability assessment, Blankinship said the chief resilience officer would be able to take a more holistic approach on what the weakest infrastructure components would be.

“We need to identify what’s most vulnerable, and then create a plan to be able to address how we can most effectively - and then how much it will cost to fund -  making sure those pieces of critical infrastructure can withstand future storms,” Blankinship said.

At-Large Group 4 City Councilman Matt Carlucci  is heading a task force created last year called the Special Council Committee on Resiliency to look at recommendations made by AAA and determine which of them they will use as their own.

“We’re really encouraged by how much support we’ve received from City Council for at least this initial resolution,” Blankinship said.

The Special Council Committee on Resiliency will hold its first meeting Monday, January 27, at 2 p.m. in the Lynwood Roberts Room in City Hall. It will be open to the public.  

Sky Lebron can be reached at slebron@wjct.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.

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