When the Ship Hits the Fan! River Rising Hurricane Preparedness Town Hall June 21

BY KELLY PATTON, Outreach Director, St. Johns Riverkeeper

The term “hurricane preparedness” has become as familiar to us as Pavlov’s bell was to his dogs. When we hear those words on the radio, we adjust our shopping lists and make sure we have the supplies we need to hold out through the storm. Every year, “hurricane preparedness” messages remind us that we live within a dynamic and vulnerable system affected by Mother Nature and must take precautions to keep ourselves and our families safe.

But are our local elected officials hearing that same message?

While we focus on our shopping lists and preparing our homes, what are our elected leaders doing to fortify our infrastructure and create a more resilient community? A community less vulnerable to flooding and damage? Unfortunately, the answer appears to be – not much.

Hurricane Season begins June 1, and we need to be more prepared, individually and as a community. Last year, Hurricane Irma flooded and wiped out many communities across our watershed, leaving in its wake, ten million tons of raw sewage in the St. Johns River and thousands of flooded-out homes and businesses. Irma was the strongest Atlantic-basin hurricane ever recorded, spending three days as a Category 5 hurricane, the longest on record. According to various sources, the number of people ordered to evacuate areas of Florida and Georgia ranged from 5.5 to 7 million, and the geographic area spanned tens of thousands of square miles. Although this storm was unprecedented, scientists tell us that Irma and Harvey are the first of many stronger, wetter storms to come.

Unfortunately, decades of deepening the St. Johns, and the current plans to dredge the river even deeper, make us even more vulnerable to storm surge and flooding. As a result, it is critical that we address the impacts of dredging and ensure that our communities are better prepared before, during, and after the storm.

The St. Johns RIVERKEEPER is kicking off a series of community town hall conversations to educate citizens about the impacts of dredging and rising waters, provide a platform for citizens to raise their voice and take action, and to discuss how we can become a more resilient community.

  • The first town hall will be held at Sun-Ray Cinema on Thursday, June 21 (6:30pm)

Our hope is that participants will leave these town halls with a clear call to action that pressures our City leaders to better protect and prepare for the next storm to come – asking them, “What are you going to do?” Our river, our homes and businesses, and our health all depend on it. Waiting to take action will only make our communities more vulnerable to rising waters, increased flooding, public infrastructure failings and will further deteriorate the health of our river.

We must have these community conversations now – there is no time to waste. We hope you will join us. For more information about this important issue and upcoming town hall meetings, visit www.stjohnsriverkeeper.org.


About Kelly Thompson

Kelly Thompson Outreach Director St. Johns Riverkeeper Kelly's job responsibilities include expanding the St. Johns Riverkeeper's geographic outreach efforts by organizing engaging community events and programs, developing partnerships with local organizations and businesses, and connecting citizens to the water through everyday action opportunities along the St. Johns River. A Georgia native, Kelly grew up spending summers on the coast, where her outside experiences kept her closely connected to the water and everything it touched. With a strong passion for marine conservation, Kelly received her Bachelor of Science in Biology from Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. Before joining the St. Johns Riverkeeper team, she started her coastal career as a Naturalist and Sea Turtle Technician on Sea Island, GA (one of Georgia’s 14 barrier islands) and spent four years working in coastal outreach and education with One Hundred Miles, an environmental advocacy nonprofit on the Georgia coast. In coastal Florida, Kelly has also worked with the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program conducting wild bottlenose dolphin research and coordinated sea turtle rehabilitation and education efforts with Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Outside of work, Kelly enjoys nature photography, kayaking, and a good book. With a recent move to Jacksonville, she is looking forward to exploring the natural wonders of Florida and everything the St. Johns River has to offer.