Could Changes To St. Augustine’s Building Code Help Solve City’s Chronic Flooding Problem?

Oct 9, 2020

The St. Augustine City Commission is looking for ways to alleviate the chronic flooding the city has been dealing with increasingly in recent years.

Commissioner John Valdes, who has worked in the construction industry for decades, said during the Sept. 28 meeting that St. Augustine is filled with old structures built on top of suspended wood floor systems, which allow water to filter into the soil when it rains.

“Over time, these buildings have been torn down for one reason or another and the new construction form since the end of World War II is you pour a concrete slab on the ground and you build the house on top of it,” he explained. “If you take away a 2,000-square-foot old house with the suspended floor system and you put back a 2,000 square foot house slab on ground, you've just lost that 2,000 square feet of soil to percolate or absorb stormwater.”

Valdes said St. Augustine has seen a lot of growth downtown, and because modern homes are built with concrete slabs, this scenario has played out over and over again throughout the city.

“So I think we need to address our building codes in areas where we have chronic flooding,” Valdes told his fellow commissioners. “We need to change the code.”

Mayor Tracy Upchurch said this is an important issue that was unfortunately pushed to the side as the city worked to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

“It seems to me this is something that is of great potential benefit,” Mayor Upchurch said of Commissioner Valdes’ recommendation.

During their meeting on Monday, Oct. 12, City Commissioners are planning to discuss creating a citizen advisory committee that would explore ways to make new building construction more resilient to flooding and to protect existing homes from the drainage impacts of new developments.

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