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Coalition Aims To Support Jacksonville’s Efforts To Address Flooding, Sea Level Rise

Flooding in Jacksonville after Hurricane Irma.
Robert Torbert
Flooding in Jacksonville after Hurricane Irma.

A new coalition of organizations and community members is working to increase public awareness of the local impacts of climate change and sea level rise, advocate for local climate action, and support Jacksonville’s new Special Committee on Resiliency.

The Resiliency and Climate Change Coalition is still in its infancy. The group has only met twice - once in January and again in February.

“We have a lot of support in Jacksonville for tackling resilience and climate change. And it hasn't had a place to focus,” said coalition chair Barbara Ketchum. “We are still in the process of defining our governance, of having people join... We started out with a meeting of about 20 people. We're way over 50 now, and the interest is high.”

There are also about a dozen member organizations. 

Ketchum said membership is growing pretty rapidly and there is a concerted effort within the coalition to reach every corner of the city.

“One of the things that we're working on as an infant organization is trying to include every community in Jacksonville because we're all impacted by climate change,” she said. “We hope that the Resiliency and Climate Change Coalition will represent every community in Jacksonville when we speak to our elected officials.”

The idea for the coalition came out of the Late Bloomers Garden Club, which was founded in 1990. About six years ago the club’s civic committee decided to focus on downtown development. “We felt like Jacksonville should be greener, more attractive, better planned, and more intentional about being a beautiful city,” Ketchum explained. 

This past fall, Ketchum and other members of Late Bloomers got together to discuss where they should focus their efforts going forward. It was around this time when the Jacksonville City Council announced that it would be forming a Special Committee on Resiliency.

Related: New Jacksonville City Council Resilience Committee to Address Flooding, Sea Level Rise

The group decided supporting the work of this committee would be a good place for them to focus their energy. Thus, the Resiliency and Climate Change Coalition was born. 

At the moment, the coalition has two main priorities: improve community engagement and advocate for the city of Jacksonville to hire a chief resilience officer (CRO). 

The coalition defines a CRO as a top-level advisor who would report directly to the mayor. The CRO would work across government departments and collaborate with independent authorities as well as regional and state agencies to help prepare Jacksonville for things like future flooding and sea level rise.

Jacksonville is one of the only major communities in the state that doesn’t have a CRO or similar position. Miami-Dade County, Broward County, Monroe County, Miami, Miami Beach, Tallahassee, and St. Augustine all have CROs. Orange County has a Chief Sustainability and Resilience Officer, Palm Beach County has an Office of Resilience. Hillsborough County has a Chief Innovation and Resiliency Officer while Orlando has a Director of Sustainability and Resilience, St. Petersburg has a Sustainability Director as well as an Office of Sustainability and Resiliency, and Tampa is now in the process of hiring a Sustainability and Resilience Officer.

Related: Officials Urge Jax To Appoint Chief Resilience Officer, Establish Office Of Resilience

Momentum is growing to appoint a CRO in Jacksonville. During its first meeting, several members of the city’s Special Committee on Resiliency (all of them City Councilmembers) openly supported the idea of hiring a CRO. Committee member and City Councilman Aaron Bowman has since requested $300,000 in next year’s city budget to establish a permanent CRO position in Jacksonville.

In addition to outreach and advocacy, Ketchum said education will be a major focus for the coalition. During the coalition’s next meeting, scheduled for 10 a.m. on Monday, March 16, at the Garden Club of Jacksonville, environmental psychologist Lauren Watkins will be teaching members tested strategies for having productive, non-polarizing conversations about climate change.

Related: How To Talk About Climate Change Without Getting Punched In the Face

The public is invited to attend this and future coalition meetings.

“We want the public to know that there is going to be a place where they can come and support resiliency measures and climate change plans,” Ketchum said. “I think it's pretty obvious Jacksonville is ready to take some action on these issues.”

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

Special Projects Producer Brendan Rivers joined WJCT News in August of 2018 after several years as a reporter and then News Director at Southern Stone Communications, which owns and operates several radio stations in the Daytona Beach area.