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JAXPORT Environmental Concerns, Living Shorelines Discussed At Resiliency Committee

JAXPORT
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Environmental concerns surrounding dredging at JAXPORT were among the topics at a Thursday City Council committee meeting.

The Jacksonville City Council’s Special Committee on Resiliency held its second meeting Thursday afternoon, looking back at some of the previous findings from city-appointed groups on sea level rise and coastal flooding.

The committee discussed the next steps toward hiring a city chief resiliency officer, the recent plans from JAXPORT to dredge the harbor from 40 to 47 feet, and natural ways of protecting the coastline without bulkheads and man-made structures,. 

The meeting saw presentations from Jacksonville’s City Director of Planning and Development Bill Killingsworth and Director of Public Works John Pappas.

Killingsworth first presented the conclusions drawn by the Adaptation Action Area Working Group (AAA), which ended its meetings in August. 

The AAA outlined over 40 recommendations toward resilience on the First Coast’s shoreline and river-system, but proposed three fundamental changes to the City Council: 

  • Establish a Chief Resiliency Officer position, preferably within the Mayor’s Office.
  • Conduct a coastal flooding and sea level rise vulnerability assessment that would identify the region’s most sensitive areas.
  • Expand the current AAA boundary to include areas that include areas that are contiguous with both the 500-year flood-plain and a Category 3 storm surge. 

Committee chairman Matt Carlucci said action toward hiring a chief resiliency officer is moving in a positive direction.

“I think we’re in pretty good shape on getting this chief resiliency officer on board,” Carlucci said. “I’m not sure how quickly, but at least by budget year, maybe before.”  Jacksonville’s next fiscal budget year begins in October. 

Committee member Aaron Bowman also filed legislation last week requesting $300,000 in the city’s budget for a permanent position to fill. 

Regarding the expansion of the  AAA boundary, committee member Garrett Dennis said that new territory impacted by flooding should be a topic brought up to potential buyers.

“When new homeowners buy property, in some way we need to alert them that it’s in an area where it’s prone to flooding and things like that, because I think it’s not just working on the back end, but also being proactive,” Dennis said. 

Killingworth said the proposed boundaries are not yet adopted, so the conversation isn’t required. But current boundaries already have restrictions on land usage.

“In that boundary, the current regulation says you can’t increase residential density there,” Killingsworth said. “You can’t come in and ask for a rezoning or a land use change.” 

Killingsworth said he can see similar regulations being imposed on the expanded boundary if it’s adopted by the city. 

Later in the meeting, City Councilman Tommy Hazouri asked if there had been any studies regarding the environmental impacts of the JAXPORT harbor deepening. 

“I’m all for the dredging. I’m all for the jobs that we’re gonna be getting,” Hazouri said. “That’s not my issue. I just want to know the impact.” 

According to a report from WJCT News partner News4Jax, JAXPORT is asking the city for $70 million for the harbor deepening, along with $46 million in loans. 

The St. Johns Riverkeeper and other organizations filed a lawsuit against the port, saying more environmental tests were required to discover the long-term impact of the deepening. 

“We've got a big investment at the port, but also our environment has a big investment in the quality of life here in the city,” Hazouri said.

The final presentation from John Pappas discussed findings from the Storm Resiliency and Infrastructure Development Review Committee. 

The committee looked at drainage and flood control, the effects of deficient drainage, and tidal impacts and water levels in the St. Johns River.

Pappas spoke about ‘living shorelines’, or natural barriers for protection from flooding, rather than man-made sea walls or bulkheads.   

“Being a public works guy, we always focused on armoring banks and armoring outfall systems,” Pappas said. “The [Army Corp. of Engineers] brought forth information and a different focus to look on living shorelines, and creating something that can last a lot longer than our man-made armoring efforts.” 

Pappas said the natural vegetation creates stability, while the man-made structures have a higher rate of deterioration and require more maintenance. 

Adam Hoyles, an environmental consultant with the city, said the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is looking for a similarly natural way to protect its shoreline in case of storms. 

“When I’m working for either the city or private homeowners, one of the first questions we’ll often [get] on a shoreline question is ‘well, what is it gonna take to get a bulkhead in?’” Hoyles said. “And a lot of the contractors actually that we work with, if I say the words ‘living shoreline’ to them, I get a blank stare.”

The proposed project at the zoo is supposed to be a demonstration of what a living shoreline should look like, according to Hoyles. 

Committee member Michael Boylan asked Pappas if a new department needs to be created within the Public Works Department to focus on resiliency. Pappas said studies first need to conclude on the city’s end in order for priorities to be finalized.  

A third meeting will be held late next month. 

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