Several City Council Members Say They Want A Chief Resilience Officer In Jacksonville

Jan 27, 2020

Jacksonville’s new Special Committee on Resiliency held its first meeting on Monday and several committee members openly supported the idea of appointing a chief resilience officer.

City Hall’s Lynwood Roberts room was packed for the committee’s inaugural meeting. The committee, made up of seven Jacksonville City Council members, saw two presentations.

The first speaker was Glen Landers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District. His presentation focused on the impacts of climate change and sea level rise, which he said have “the potential to impact all U.S. Army Corps of Engineers mission areas.”

He warned that sea level rise was accelerating locally and suggested several courses of action that Jacksonville should start pursuing, such as making essential services more resilient so things like hospitals and police stations remain functional during extreme weather events like hurricanes. But, Landers told committee members the first step towards addressing the threats posed by climate change and sea level rise is to thoroughly understand the risks.

The second presentation of the day was given by Whitney Gray, the administrator of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Resilient Coastlines Program (FRCP). She said the DEP is eager to help Jacksonville as it tries to deal with sea level rise and is already funding a resiliency analysis in the city.

Related: City Hall Looks To Evaluate Jacksonville’s Susceptibility To Sea Level Rise

Gray told committee members that building resilience needs to be done community wide, not on an individual-by-individual basis.

Councilwoman Joyce Morgan asked how important it is for communities to have a chief resilience officer. Gray said it’s been very helpful to other communities in the state as they try to marshal all available resources.

Councilman Aaron Bowman said he hopes Jacksonville will get its own CRO in the near future, a sentiment several other committee members voiced support for, including chair Matt Carlucci.

Related: Jacksonville Scientists, Academics Urge Mayor And City Council To Take On Climate Change

“I hope that at the end of six months that’ll be one of our recommendations,” Carlucci said. “It would be there soul issue to look at every day they come to work: ‘What can I do to help the Council, the city, the public, the citizens, all the organizations, to make our city a safer place to live as these sea levels rise and we get more and more storms?’”

Carlucci said he hopes to secure the funding necessary to hire a chief resilience officer in next year’s city budget.

Appointing a chief resilience officer is one of three main recommendations in a resolution currently making its way through City Council committees.

Related: City Council Committees Pass Sea Level Rise Task Force Recommendations

During public comment, residents brought up several points that weren’t addressed during the meeting, such as emissions reductions, which are needed in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change, and the St. Johns River dredging, which will likely exacerbate the effects of sea level rise, researchers told WJCT News partner The Florida Times-Union. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ own report on the project acknowledges that the dredging could increase storm surge height.

“There’s a lot of merit to both of those issues,” Carlucci said after the meeting. “This is like trying to kiss a gorilla… those are issues that we need to take a look at.”

But he said it looks like the river dredging is going to continue.

“The dredge is kind of counterproductive to trying to work on resilience, but in Jacksonville we have almost 40 percent of our population living at the poverty level and the Port Authority is a job driver,” he said. “The number of jobs that will bring will help lift our community up.”

But he said that there are ways to help mitigate the environmental impacts of the river dredging.

“There’s a lot of needs our city has and we have to try to find a way to work our way through and not let the perfect get in the way of the good,” said Carlucci.

To learn more about the City Council’s Special Committee on Resiliency, and to watch or listen to the meetings, click here.

The next committee meeting is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Thursday, February 27th. Public comments can be submitted by email to resiliency@coj.net.

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