St. Augustine Asks Feds To Help Pay For $3M Study On Flooding, Sea Level Rise

Feb 7, 2019

The City of St. Augustine, with help from allies on Capitol Hill, is asking the federal government to help pay for a $3 million U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study on sea level rise and flooding.

In January, St. Augustine Mayor Nancy Shaver went to Washington D.C. to speak with Senator Marco Rubio, Congressman John Rutherford, Congressman Michael Waltz and the staff of Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy to ask for support as the city looks to acquire federal funding for what’s known as a back bay feasibility study.

The study would look at storm surge and the impacts of sea level rise on the interior areas of St. Augustine.

“Essentially, what this study will do, is it will look at various alternatives that maybe could minimize some of those impacts they may see down the road, or to minimize  impacts they’ve already seen,” said Jason Harrah, Project Manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

He said the study itself has already been authorized by Congress, the Army Corps is just waiting for the funding to be approved. Mayor Shaver said getting that approval is a priority for her this year.

“We know that by the year 2030, roughly, our city will have 90 days, or one in every four days, of nuisance flooding, covering 30 percent of our road network,” she said. “So we need to maintain our city and we need to do everything possible to make sure we continue to be a thriving city in the face of 1.5 to 2 feet of sea level rise within the next decade.”

Shaver is aware that the Army Corps receives dozens, if not hundreds, of study requests every year. But, she said St. Augustine should be a priority.

“It’s the oldest city in the United States and we have amazing historical and cultural resources,” she said. “That’s why I think it’s important to prioritize it. You can’t replace St. Augustine.”

Rutherford agreed. “We have 450 year old assets, historical assets, that are critical to the economic base of that area of Florida,” he said. “And those are the things that, obviously, can’t be replaced.”

That’s why he has come out in support of St. Augustine’s push for federal aid. He recently wrote a letter to the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, which appears at the bottom of this story.

Congressman Rutherford said he hopes the funding can be secured within the next six months so the study can begin as soon as possible. He believes there will be plenty of support on Capitol Hill.

“I can tell you I think the whole Florida delegation is getting behind this,” he said. “This is important for Florida.”

If the appropriations request is approved, the cost will be split 50/50 between the City of St. Augustine and the federal government.

Harrah said the study itself could take two to three years to complete.

“Once we complete the feasibility phase, we will come up with an ultimate recommended plan,” he explained. “That plan has to be authorized by Congress. Once that plan gets authorized by Congress, we will then seek appropriations to do design of that project and construction of that project.”

The City of St. Augustine would have to match federal funding for each of those phases as well.

According to Harrah, the design phase usually takes about a year to finish and construction could take a year or two to wrap up.

“I would say if everything lined up, with all the appropriations and the authorizations, you could be under construction within four to five years,” he said.

But, Harrah said, Congress can always expedite the process. And he hopes that will be the case for St. Augustine.

“It’s a very vital project to St. Johns County and the City of St. Augustine,” he said. “We stand ready to begin as soon as we get the appropriations.”

Rep. John Rutherford's Letter

Brendan Rivers can be reached at brivers@wjct.org, 904-358-6396 or on Twitter at @BrendanRivers.