Gulf of Mexico
St. Augustine/Army Corps Of Engineers / This Army Corps of Engineers illustration shows potential flooding and a floodwall solution.

FL - St. Augustine searches for flooding solutions

City officials have approved a three-year study agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to find solutions to coastal storm risks.

When a tropical storm flows into Northeast Florida, higher tides push the Matanzas River into the roads, homes and businesses of historic St. Augustine.

The result is costly damage to centuries-old homes and tourist attractions, plus infrastructure that all must be dried out and repaired, only to flood again in the next big storm or even high tide due to recent water level rise.

Now city officials have approved a three-year study agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to find solutions to coastal storm risks, investigating everything from walls to stave off invading waves to relocation of vulnerable structures.

St. Augustine Mayor Nancy Sikes-Kline on Monday signed the St. Augustine/Florida Back Bay Coastal Storm Risk Management Feasibility Study, joined by the corps' Jacksonville District commander, James Booth. The city and corps each share the $3 million study cost.

 State Road A1A in downtown St. Augustine flooded during Tropical Storm Ian.
News4JaxState Road A1A in downtown St. Augustine flooded during Tropical Storm Ian.

News4JaxState Road A1A in downtown St. Augustine flooded during Tropical Storm Ian.

For St. Augustine's chief resilience officer, Jessica Beach, this study is a "multifaceted approach" into coastal storm risk.

"We are basically doing a deep dive into all of the flooding that's been happening, a lot of it focusing on the coastal aspects of it, whether that's hurricane beach erosion, storm damage or things of that nature," Beach said. "We are looking over essentially the next 50 years and what are our options to reduce and mitigate those risks. We have a lot at risk with our cultural and historical resources, and we are trying our best to protect those."

A history of flooding

Studies have long shown that Downtown St. Augustine is vulnerable to flooding. A 2017 study, drafted through a pilot partnership between the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, found that a rather moderate sea level rise would affect 20% to 50% of the historic district by the 2040s at the earliest, or 2100 at the latest.

When Hurricane Dorian skirted the east coast of Florida in 2019, the area around the South Davis Shores neighborhood had 32 homes with some type of flooding damage. Then in late September, waves driven by Tropical Storm Ian breached Downtown St. Augustine's sea wall and rushed into the historic city, flooding State Road A1A near the Bridge of Lions as it pushed inland toward North Ponce De Leon Boulevard.

The reason for this repeated flooding is St. Augustine's low-lying layout, and not just on the bayfront, said Beach, who took on her job in 2017.

"We actually have many neighborhoods and residential areas that also flood just as substantially as the Downtown area," she said. "A lot of it is looking at elevations where that water can find its way into, whether it is through storm drains or just overtopping low existing ground elevations."

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