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Naples, Florida Weekly: Safeguarding the Coastline

TRECKER

We just marked the anniversary of Hurricane Ian, the $100-billion storm that ravaged the Southwest Florida coast and proved once more how vulnerable we’re.

We’ll always remember Ian. Storm surges of as much as 16 feet destroyed all the things in sight — buildings, boats, cars, belongings, all the things. Protective sand dunes were obliterated. Mangroves were torn apart.

While the structures didn’t get up to the large storm, the people did. Their resilience was remarkable. Because of them, rebuilding is well underway, although officials say it would be many more years before it’s accomplished — longer in Lee County than in Collier, where the devastation was somewhat less.

The issue, in fact, is that the storms carry on coming. Florida has been hit by six hurricanes and lots of more tropical disturbances over the past six years. Soaring temperatures have turned the Gulf right into a hot bathtub, intensifying storms as they develop. Idalia just missed Southwest Florida, and at this writing three more storms have formed within the Atlantic, any one in every of which could smack us in October.

Are we doing anything about it? You bet. Steps are being taken to shore up the coastline with each near- and long-term fixes.

Here’s a fast take a look at where things stand.

Hurricane repair. After Ian, Collier officials allocated big money to revive sand and no less than temporarily protect shoreline buildings. Coastal Zone Management crafted a three-step plan.

• Beach cleanup and leveling

• Interim protection – Emergency Berm plus plantings

• Longer-term beach restoration (as needed over 4-5 years)

The centerpiece of the plan is the so-called Emergency Berm, a program approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency with a 75% reimbursement inbuilt. Nearing completion, the project calls for placement of over 400,000 tons of sand along the Collier coast, raising the berm to a mean of six feet above sea-level elevation. A logistical wonder, the sand was brought in by trucks from two inland quarries, a six-month parade involving hundreds of truck hauls.

The intent was to guard against 5-year storms. Right on cue, Hurricane Idalia brushed by, bringing localized flooding and as much as 3-foot storm surges.

How did the Emergency Berm perform? Even before vegetation was planted to shore up the temporary dunes, the added sand did its job, protecting beachfront buildings.

Successes are few and much between in battles with Mother Nature. Hats off to CZM head Andy Miller for delivering one in every of them.

Army Corps Study. How about longterm protection? That’s being devised by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. A joint Collier County-USACE feasibility study resumed after a false start and now has a proposal targeted for review by June 2024 and final approval set for August 2025.

It is a big deal. We’re talking a few multi-billion-dollar, multi-decade master plan for shielding buildings and infrastructure along the Collier coast — an enormous undertaking to be 65% funded by the Feds.

It’s been a controversial project from the get-go. Many stakeholders, particularly environmentalists, have bitterly opposed hardening (sea partitions, groins, floodgates), preferring as a substitute “nature-based” protection — sand, plantings, offshore islands.

And the environmentalists have apparently won. At a public meeting in September, County Director of Community Planning & Resiliency Chris Mason said hardening was off the table and the main focus was entirely on “nature-based” approaches.

That is stunning. Without hardening, it’s doubtful real protection may be provided. However the USACE points out federal funding requires meeting each environmental and engineering goals. Each should be feasible.

Regardless, the donnybrook is much from over. And it’s vital to get it right. Our coastline, arguably our most vital asset, will depend on it. ¦

Dave Trecker is a chemist and retired Pfizer executive living in Florida.

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