The St. Johns River offered a swirling backdrop to a press conference at Friendship Fountain today as the St. Johns Riverkeeper announced a series of town hall meetings about flooding and rising waters.
Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman said that the goal of the meetings, which kick off later this month, is to "bring the community together ... so we could talk about long-term strategies to make ourselves more resilient as a city and as communities."
Attendees will be afforded the opportunity to hear from scientists and other experts, including people who have studied the issue from a historic perspective, and share their thoughts, concerns and ideas.
"We want to make sure they have an opportunity to be heard," Rinaman said.
As this is the first day of hurricane season, many around the nation, and perhaps especially in Northeast Florida, which has been impacted by hurricanes in both previous years, may have storms and floods on the brain. Last year, Hurricane Irma brought unprecedented flooding to parts of Jacksonville, some of which are still not fully recovered. In fact, a man from Ken Knight Drive, a community particularly damaged by the storm, who was scheduled to speak at today's event, cancelled to help a neighbor fix a roof that has had tarps on it since the storm last September.
The Riverkeeper is embroiled in a lawsuit trying to stop JaxPort's dredging project currently underway in the St. Johns River, to deepen the shipping channel from 40 to 47 feet; the dredging will likely increase storm surge and flooding. In a release, The Riverkeeper noted that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reports that "even smaller, 'high frequency' storms could increase storm surge and the maximum water levels in the St. Johns River by an additional 12 percent due to the current dredging project." That could be the difference between soaking the yard and flooding the home in a low-lying riverfront community like Jacksonville, and its outlying and oceanfront communities, where every inch counts. Hurricane Irma last September may have already shown residents of the region how dredging, which has significantly increased the volume of water in the river, creates a more powerful storm surge—further magnified by sea level rise.
Nevertheless, some city officials essentially have their heads in the sand about climate change, sea level rise and the ramifications thereof.
Folio Weekly asked Rinaman about Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry's decision to pull out of 100 Resilient Cities, a Rockefeller Foundation initiative that aims to help cities implement strategies to adapt for "physical economic, and social challenges that are a growing part of the 21st century."
"When you look at what other communities are doing that are part of the 100 Resilient Cities, we're losing ground," she said. "These cities are participating not only to make themselves more resilient from rising waters in future storms, but also dealing with economic disparities, building up neighborhoods, dealing with crime."
She said that the cities in the program have taken a collaborative approach that not only improves their resiliency, it makes them more competitive in the marketplace. "We're simply falling behind," she said.
Like many, Rinaman believes the city economy depends in part on the health of the river, one of the reasons people and businesses visit and relocate to Northeast Florida. She praised City Councilwoman Lori Boyer's work to "activate" the river and provide people with more and richer opportunities to enjoy it and said it "brought great energy" to the St. Johns.
"We want to complement that work by focusing now; let's get people out there and then make sure we're protecting this for future generations."
This is the schedule for the town hall meetings:
Thursday, June 21 @ 6:30 p.m.
Sun-Ray Cinema, 1028 Park St., 32204
Thursday, June 28 @ 6:30 p.m.
Oceanway Senior Center, 12215 Sago Ave. W., 32218
Friday, June 29, @ Noon - 1:00 p.m.
Jesse Ball DuPont Center, 40 E. Adams St., 32202
Wednesday, July 11 @ 6:00 p.m.
Intuition Ale Works, 929 E. Bay St., 32202
For more information about the meetings, contact Kelly Patton or Shannon Blankinship at 904-256-7591, or visit stjohnsriverkeeper.org.