City Council seeks residents for resiliency committees

With so much coastline, City may be primed
for flooding

Concerned about the prospect of increased flooding and more intense hurricanes, members of the City Council’s Special Committee on Resiliency are looking for community volunteers to join three new sub-committees that will be tasked with finding ways to prepare the City for disasters. 

The sub-committees are part of an overall effort to increase the City’s resiliency – its ability to bounce back from natural and man-made disasters as well as pandemics. At the recommendation of the Resiliency Committee, the City has also committed to hiring a chief resilience officer to head up efforts, though it’s unclear when that position will be funded.

“We have 1,100 miles of shoreline in Duval,” said At Large Group 5 Councilman Matt Carlucci, who is chairman of the committee. “This is a huge issue for Jacksonville, particularly for sea-level rise. If we don’t start doing things for our future generations, we are not going to leave them with the community we should be leaving them with.”

Flooding has long been an issue in the historic districts, and a 2013 Duval County report showed that even a small, Category 1 storm could force six feet of water into Downtown, while a Category 3 hurricane could cause a 20-foot storm surge along the St. Johns River, according to a previous report in The Resident. Duval County has 22 miles of beaches, 40 miles of the Intracoastal Waterway and the longest stretch of the St. Johns River in the state.

More than 70 community members attended a May 28 Zoom video conference meeting, conducted by the special committee, to hear details about resiliency efforts and learn if, and how, they could join the committees. 

At the meeting, the special committee unanimously approved creating the community groups, which will be headed up by City officials and staffers. By the next afternoon, Carlucci’s office had already gotten calls or emails from 20 people looking to apply.

Joining Carlucci on the resiliency committee are District 14 Councilwoman Randy DeFoor, District 6 Councilman Michael Boylan, District 3 Councilman Aaron Bowman, District 9 Councilman Garrett Dennis, District 1 Councilwoman Joyce Morgan, and District 4 Councilman Scott Wilson, who is also City Council president. The committee has been charged with proposing policy recommendations for the City Council to consider and to work on definitive, practical action plans, according to the City webpage about the group.

DeFoor, whose district includes Riverside, Avondale, Ortega, and Murray Hill, was firmly in favor of the community participation and active efforts to increase disaster response.

“It’s important that we get citizen input,” DeFoor said. “We definitely need resiliency. We need a hardening of Jacksonville. The Northeast Florida Regional Council has done a study showing a significant amount of flooding will occur if we don’t address this issue.”

The three sub-committees will be divided by task – environmental planning; infrastructure and continuity of operations for essential services; and education, protection of local neighborhoods and community outreach. Each committee can be composed of an unlimited number of volunteers.

“I think these committees could get pretty big,” Carlucci said. “I never put a limit on public participation – never. The one person who may not get to participate may be the one with the best ideas.”

He said Morgan will chair the education subcommittee with Boylan as vice chair, while Dennis will chair the infrastructure subcommittee with DeFoor as vice chair. He also said he hoped Bowman will chair environmental planning.

“I want these to be balanced,” he said. “I don’t want all environmentalists on this. Aaron Bowman brings a good business perspective and it will keep it balanced.”

The subcommittees, once formed, would be expected to report back to the special committee in September.

Chief resilience officer

Last year, Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Florida’s first state-wide resilience officer, Dr. Julia Nesheiwat, however, Nesheiwat left the job in February after being appointed as a homeland security adviser for President Donald Trump. The post, as of late May, had not been refilled. Some Florida counties have also added a resilience officer, including Miami-Dade and Broward, but Duval does not yet have one.

Carlucci said the City has earmarked $300,000 to fund a resiliency department. DeFoor said it would be hard to envision a coordinated resiliency program without one. 

The upcoming budget year will undoubtedly be a tough one given sales tax revenue drops due to Coronavirus-related economic shutdowns and layoffs, Carlucci said, adding that whether it is this year, or later, the City would be appointing someone to the role.

“We are going to hire a chief resiliency officer, we have commitment from the Mayor,” he said. “Councilmember Bowman, through a strategic plan, proposed $300,000 for a resiliency department. We all know that, but we don’t know how we are going to be affected by the upcoming budget this coming year. There will be some tough decisions to make.”

By Jennifer Edwards
Resident Community News

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