Councilwoman DeFoor: Protecting Jax From Climate Change A ‘Multi-Billion Dollar Fight’

Feb 23, 2021

During a meeting hosted by the North Florida Green Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, Jacksonville City Councilwoman Randy DeFoor gave a preview of some of the recommendations the Special Committee on Resiliency, which she chairs, is scheduled to vote on this week and said the city will need to spend billions of dollars to defend against the impacts of climate change.

The city’s Special Committee on Resiliency, which was established in late 2019 to help prepare the city for the effects of climate change, is expected to approve a series of recommendations during what is supposed to be its last meeting on Thursday, Feb. 25. 

The committee was divided into three subcommittees, and members — which include city staff and subject matter experts. They have been working over the past year or so to assess the city’s vulnerabilities and to come up with recommendations to address those vulnerabilities.

Chair DeFoor highlighted a few of those findings and recommendations during this week’s Tuesdays@2 meeting, a weekly social event put on by the North Florida Green Chamber of Commerce.

“The Subcommittee on Education, Protection of Local Neighborhoods and Community Outreach reported the greatest danger that Jacksonville faces is flooding from the immediate threat posed by intense tropical storms to the steady increase in sea levels that will come over the next years and decades as the climate warms. For Jacksonville, with our 1,000 miles of riverfront and oceanfront, resiliency begins with keeping water out of our neighborhoods. It's a multi-billion dollar fight that will be waged over decades to protect the city from the changing climate,” Councilwoman DeFoor said.

Recommendations coming out of that subcommittee include:

  • Establishing education and public engagement tools to reach diverse audiences.

  • Using a social justice and equity lens when engaging in public discourse and allocating resources to be more inclusive of diverse populations.

  • Attempting to address unfair or exclusionary practices perpetrated by the government.

  • Coordinating with community organizations, government entities, nonprofits and businesses.

“The infrastructure and Continuity of Operations for Essential Services Subcommittee reported the city will need to identify flood prone areas where people and homes are the most vulnerable and recommend solutions to protect those neighborhoods,” said Councilwoman DeFoor.

Some of this subcommittee’s recommendations include the following:

  • Require, at the state level, that landlords disclose if a property has previously been flooded.

  • Decision making criteria should include examining how long people have been affected by issues like flooding.

  • Mapping impacts of resiliency projects for prioritization.

  • Encouraging better private development practices with a long term resilience vision in mind.

  • Planting native trees to help absorb stormwater runoff.

  • Examining land acquisition to help mitigate flooding.

  • Updating the city’s building code.

“The Subcommittee on Environmental Planning explored living shorelines, green infrastructure, wetland preservation, protection for the existing tree canopy, resiliency in the built environmental ordinances and planting more trees for stormwater and heat resilience and other related topics,” DeFoor explained.

The subcommittee said the the city will need to do the following:

  • Create a green infrastructure action plan.

  • Reevaluate new technology for septic tanks, which are increasingly expected to fail due to sea level rise.

  • Keep shorelines natural.

  • Establish a city-wide program to protect existing high risk lands, such as wetlands, to curb future flooding.

“We have a detailed way forward. This will not be without challenges,” said DeFoor. But, she said, “We can’t keep our head in the sand any longer.”

The councilwoman said the full committee will approve the recommendations during Thursday’s meeting, which residents can attend virtually via Zoom.

A draft of the committee’s final report can be found here.

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