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Palm Coast Cited Among Florida Cities Most Vulnerable to Climate Change in Latest Review

| January 22, 2013

Sea walls won't be much use in controlling sea level rises and storm surges, the latest climate assessment concludes. (© FlaglerLive)

Sea walls won’t be much use in controlling sea level rises and storm surges, the latest climate assessment concludes. (© FlaglerLive)

A little over a week ago, the federal National Climate Assessment released its third draft report on the effects of global warming, sea level rises, intensifying extreme weather events such as hurricanes and storm surges. The nearly 1,200-page assessment, prepared by a 60-member advisory committee and some 240 authors (including several Florida scientists), is part of a federal initiative designed to “show what is actually happening and what it means for peoples’ lives, livelihoods, and future,” and to give policy makers at every level of government, including local governments, more precise knowledge of what they should be preparing for.

The assessment released in January is the first since 2009, and the most dire of the three, as “evidence for a changing climate has strengthened considerably since the last National Climate Assessment report,” its authors write. “Many more impacts of human-caused climate change have now been observed.”

And deep inside the report, on page 559, Palm Coast is one of four Florida cities singled out as being most “vulnerable to sea level rise and storm surge.” (Palm Coast is not literally on the coast, as its name implies, but its extensive network of canals exposes some of its oldest neighborhoods to storm surges.)

The Southeast is the region of the country most vulnerable to cataclysmic weather events, the report states, experiencing more billion-dollar events than any other region in the country. Florida is one of eight states that has experienced between 25 and 32 such events since 1980. Seven other states have experienced between 33 and 42 such events.

“These reports are helpful in the planning process, they’re helpful with awareness with the public with something that’s not happening right now but that has the potential to occur,” says Troy Harper, Flagler County’s emergency operations director. One of the values of the report, besides providing a roadmap to policy makers, is the way it ties seemingly disparate events together, with climate as a common thread, Harper said: the region’s wild fires, for example, are part of the same puzzle, as are dryer spells (and drought-like conditions that persisted until last year), or severe storms. Wildfires aside, Harper notes that Flagler County has been in a lull for a few years: no hurricane has struck the Florida Peninsula since 2005 (after the four hurricanes that struck it in 2004). But that only means that the region is one year closer to another major event, Harper says.

The National Climate Assessment draft report doesn’t make direct policy recommendations. Rather, it provides the latest available information to make such policies possible. The report, in draft form, is now open for public comment, and will be through April 14.

Local governments, including Flagler Beach’s, don’t directly address development issues with global warming in mind. But Their policies do reflect an indirect connection. Flagler Beach, for example, has been plagued with beach-erosion issues. Flagler County’s government and Flagler Beach are awaiting the results of a Corps of Engineers study on dredging and renourishment of some of the county’s beaches. Separately, Flagler Beach has contracted with a controversial beach-management engineer to study the possibility of installing an alternative system to control erosion.

The Department of Transportation usually imposes its own solutions to erosion that have less to do with saving beaches and more to do with saving State Road A1A. That has so far entailed planting sea walls or rock revetments that have not preserved the beaches. Palm Coast attempted top address its potential future water shortages by investing millions of dollars in a desalination project. To be viable, the project needed numerous investors in the form of other local governments. The project fell apart when the city could not hold together the coalition it built, as government after government found the venture too expensive and, for now, not needed.

But there is no comprehensive initiative locally to frame long-term policy collectively, when it comes to climate change. That’s what the federal advisory panel seeks to spur.

The federal assessment’s findings are unequivocal. “Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present,” the assessment concludes. “Americans are noticing changes all around them. Summers are longer and hotter, and periods of extreme heat last longer than any living American has ever experienced. Winters are generally shorter and warmer. Rain comes in heavier downpours, though in many regions there are longer dry spells in between.” The report was released immediately after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that 2012 was the warmest year on record (and its second-most extreme).

President Obama addressed the matter, which he’d left mostly dormant in his first term, during his second inaugural address on Monday: “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.”

The wording parallels that of the federal assessment, which, in its Southeast segment, adds to an already troubling picture for the Florida Peninsula. Leonard Berry, the director of the Florida Center for Environmental Studies and co-director of Florida Atlantic University’s Climate Change Initiative, is among the authors of the assessment. In testimony before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources last April, Berry revealed that Florida has already recorded a 5 to 8 inches of sea level rise in the past 50 years, intensifying existing water management issues. “Future projections suggest 3-7 inches of additional rise by 2030 and 9-24 inches by 2060,” Berry said.

“The porous limestone underlying much of Florida resembles Swiss cheese and makes the state particularly vulnerable to sea level rise,” he said. “Due to this geological structure, building barriers to prevent sea level rise is often impractical and financially prohibitive.”

There are 4,315 square miles of vulnerable areas that include agricultural land, developed land, forests, mangroves, marsh and tidal flats, other swamp and forested wetlands, sandy beaches, scrub and grasslands in the state, and billions of dollars of residential real estate (with hundreds of schools, hospitals and hotels) and two nuclear reactors and hundreds of hazardous material sites that could be impacted by the changes, Berry said.

He outlines four priorities for policy makers:

1. Further identify areas and communities at special risk using the State of Florida Adaptation Action Area legislation. Efforts should be made to align Federal legislation with these critical state level policies.

2. There is an urgent need to incorporate sea level rise projections into all infrastructure and water

management plans. Increased motoring activities are needed, including additional National Water Level Program Networks (NWLON), important in understanding and tracking changes in sea level rise for the state. Establishment of a state-wide saltwater intrusion monitoring network is also recommended.

3. Identify future energy needs, including the cost of adaptation, for the coming decades, and moving towards traditional and alternative energy forms to meet these needs.

4. Use past responses to extreme events to create more sustainable community systems. Florida emergency management is already successfully working towards such initiatives.

The National Climate Assessment had concluded that as far as Florida and the Southeast are concerned, three issues should be on the forefront of policymakers’ and public awareness:

Sea level rise poses widespread and continuing threats to both natural and built environments, as well as the regional economy.

Rising temperatures and the associated increase in frequency, intensity, and duration of extreme heat events will affect public health, natural and built environments, energy, agriculture, and forestry.

Decreased water availability, exacerbated by population growth and land-use change, will continue to increase competition for water and impact the region’s economy and unique ecosystems.

The full report is available here. A breakdown by chapters is available here.

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14 Responses for “Palm Coast Cited Among Florida Cities Most Vulnerable to Climate Change in Latest Review”

  1. palmcoastpioneers says:

    For the newer Palm Coasters ‘The Palm Coast Projects ‘ origins:

    Page 128:
    Palm Coast will be neither a “sudden city’ nor an ‘instant’ one but will grow in accordance with a pre-planned program, no matter whether it flourishes twenty, thirty, or forty years from now. Palm Coast is a strip of land thirty miles long at its longest, ten miles wide at its widest, covering approximately 160 square miles. It is a fact that under the controls we will institute, despite its being larger in extent than Detroit or Philadelphia, it will have a density of say, Beverly Hills, California. But more on this later. Palm Coast has about six miles of ocean front, approximately twenty miles on the Intracoastal Waterway, and will have significant man made water areas. Again, these will be reviewed in the main body of the text.
    Now to a brief description of the terrain. Like other areas along the east coast of Florida, the property was formed primarily by sand dunes that have been build up by the interaction of winds, waves, tidal cycles, and ocean currents. This continued accretion of land as a repetitive process has caused the creation of lagoons between the new dune and the existing land mass. It is from these lagoon that the present salt water lagoons and marshlands evolved.

    Page 138:
    H. Preservation of Tidal Wetlands

    Study: Preliminary site analysis data showed that approximately 4,000 acres of project property are tidal wetlands, which comprise areas of great biological diversity and productivity. These areas produce a wide variety of living organisms, from microscopic species to fish and shellfish, birds, and mammals. Many species spend their entire life cycles in tidal wetlands, whereas others spend portions of their cycles there. Abundant species of plant growth, which form the base for all animal life, are also evident.
    Solution: NO building, construction, or development will occur on tidal wetlands.
    1. Preservation of Intracoastal Waterway Water Quality.
    Study: Available engineering studies, reports, and other records were gathered on the Intracoastal Waterway in the vicinity of Palm Coast , relating to construction problems, erosion, and maintenance-
    Page 137

    dredging required within the waterway. Also, conditions of the waterway withing the Project tract, information on spoil easements and data relative to flood elevation were documented in the report.
    Solution: Earth plugs are used to prevent intrusion of sediment into the Waterway while canal construction is in progress. After turbidity levels in the canals subside to low background levels, the plugs are removed, leaving no adverse effects upon the water quality.

    L. Beach and Sand Dune Preservation

    Studies: Historical records of the tide information regarding hurricanes and northeast storms were accumulated. Historiclal Beach dynamics were summarized, isolating the littoral drift, which apparently is to the south during most of the year and to the north during the summer. These data indicate that at Matanzas Inlet there is considerable drift into the waterway. Accompanying this report are the records on what happened at St Augustine Beach and Crescent Beach during the Hurricane Dora, along with storm winde and swell diagrams obtained from the Corps of Engineers.
    Solutions. Minimum building elevations were set based on the data obtained. Aerial photogrpahs taken in 1943 were compared with current photographs to determine the amount of beach erosion in this area. Dr. Per Bruun of the Technical University of Norway , at Trondheim, was retained to coordinate this data and to make recommendations for construction in beachfront areas. Efforts will be made to preserve and protect existing sand dunes. Indiscriminate construction will be precluded by setting all structures back at prescribed limits. Recreational activities on the dunes will be monitored to insure that vegetaive systems are preserved.

    FR: ‘An Approach to a New City: Palm Coast’,
    Dr. Norman Young and Dr. Stanley Dea.
    ( Reprinted from Environmental Affairs, Volume2, Number 1, Spring, 1972.)

  2. palmcoastpioneers says:

    For the newer Palm Coasters – The Palm Coast Projects Water Supply for the future City of 750,000 Population.

    Water Supply Studies

    Studies covering the water supply potential for Palm Coast development have been going on continuously since the inception of this development. At that time, the consulting ground water geology firm of Leggette, Brashears & Graham examined the area and researched all existing data to dtermine the ground water potential. They have reported that the water supply for the area will come from three sources. The first is a water deposit that lies within our property boundaries and would be adquate to supply water for the initial phases of our project. The second source of water also lying within the boundaries of the property would be utilized once the potential of the first supply was reached. Studies also showed that the Floridian Aquifer, which lies to the west of our property, would be adequate from a quantitative and qualitative standpoint to supply the 50-60 million gallons a day needed to meet the demands of our ultimate population. The investigation of these areas of water supply involved an exhaustive search of all existing data available in government records as well as a sampling of production wells in the area. Actual drilling of wells was made in areas of high potential so that quantitative and qualitative tests could be made in the proposed area of water supply.

    Since these preliinary investigations were made, more detailed studies have borne out the exisence of our initial water supply. Investigative studies and drilling programs are presently underway to finalize the quantity of water that exists in our intermediate source of supply. In addition , more detailed investigations of inland tracts, where hydrogeologic conditions indicate most of the eventual supply will have to be obtained, are now underway in order to locate exactly the water source required for our ultimate population.

    Additional studies were also made to determine if there would be any adverse effect by canal construction on the fresh water supply existing in the area. The tests consisted of drilling wells in the shallow sands from the tidal lowlands to a point several miles inland , and they were done to determine the water quality in this area. The tests clearly demonstrated that the ground water in the area planned for waterfront developent was, in its natural state
    Page 141
    too contaminated with brackish water to serve as a potable water supply. The construction of the canals has not degraded any fresh water resources nor should it result in salt water intrusion into the potable water supply in the shallow sands.

    FR: ‘An Approach to a New City: Palm Coast’,
    Dr. Norman Young and Dr. Stanley Dea.
    ( Reprinted from Environmental Affairs, Volume2, Number 1, Spring, 1972.)

    • Douglas Goodwin says:

      I call BS Palm Coast was built on a swamp It is amazing how People conveniently forget these things go back in time and ask where Big Gum Swamp went? What happened to the Hurricane ditch that ran along side the Intercoastal Waterway ? What happened to Lehigh Lake behind Lehigh Cut I remember when there was a hugh outcry when new Homes were cracking because of faulty land fill.
      I was born and raised in Flagler Beach I remember hunting and fishing all over where Palm Coast is and wondering how they were getting away with filling in all the wetlands. I also remember coming home on leave and driving around areas that I used to use the boat to fish in. So don’t blame the Climate BS Blame man for building on a Swamp

  3. Magnolia says:

    interesting, isn’t it, that the federal government doesn’t think we are responsible enough to look after our own area?

    More laws, more controls, our own government is suffocating the life out of this country. Sustainable development…..where HAVE I heard that term before? Oh, right….the UN program that suggests we all be herded into high population areas where our every move and resource may be controlled by the government!

    Palm Coast was built to be a limited sized community. Keep it that way and your water supply will be fine. Sell out to the builders and reap what you sow.

    Not safe for us to drill but the administration is quietly selling leases to the Chinese.

    The only thing wrong with this country is that we don’t have enough people who are paying attention to what their own government is up to.

    How’s all this working for the Chinese?

  4. Sam says:

    Please…Someone buy my house so I can get OUT of this nightmare city. 2013 will be the year of the SUPER HURRICANE that will hit us head on. Get out now ..Save your family …..Move to the mountains of the Carolina”s or Virginia. Doomed…we are all DOOMED !!!!!!

  5. Pamala Zill says:

    Hmmm, no coast in Palm Coast and you, refer to the contract Flagler Beach proper has with HOLMBERG TECHNOLOGY as controversial? Ridiculous.

  6. Anonymous says:

    These are the important issues that Mr. Coffey and the County Commission should be tackling. Instead, they do nothing because they don’t have a clue how to agree on anything with Palm Coast or our neighbors.

  7. Howard Duley says:

    Palm Coast subject to climate change? I sure hope so. Maybe everyone from the ocean up to I-95 will be wiped out by the floods. Then everyone in the W section will be sitting on ocean front property. I knew something good would come from the polar caps melting.

  8. Monica Campana says:

    I recall an early 2000 study conducted by UF on erosion at Flagler Beach that recommended rerouting A1A to Central. It was pooh-poohed and shelved. A more recent study proposed PC as a perfect location for turning brackish water into drinkable water. It was pooh-poohed and shelved. Penny wise, pound foolish.

    I bought a house in the NC mountains.

  9. BrunoTars says:

    Is this going to be foder used against us by the Insurance companies to raise our insurance or even deny us. I hope everyone living not only in Flagler Beach but according to this article, everyone in Palm Coast proper.

  10. Old Harley dude says:

    I think the millions spent on studies like this is a was to money that could be spent else where. Florida has a mean elevation of less then 100 feet putting our state 49th, next to Delaware. A couple thoughts on global warming. The ice on mars showed dramatic melting the same time as the earths temps went up for a few years. SUV’s? There have been many scientists caught falsifying data and ALL have been on the side of global warming.

  11. Magnolia says:

    According to the Brits, Global Warming ended 16 years ago and they have the proof:–chart-prove-it.html

    The article deals with the costs of flawed science.

    That said, I’m not sure any of the reasons mentioned have anything to do with global warming, real or not. Too many getting unbelievably rich off of global warming. What is Al Gore up to now, 9 or 10 lavish mansions? How many do you need?

  12. Sue says:

    The fact is that the landscape changes on a constant basis. If you look at the coastlines anywhere in the world from as far back as history of these pictures goes, then compare each decade thereafter, we’re not eroding faster than in prior decades.

  13. KK says:

    Pfft, I call BS. It’s getting hotter because of the idiocy of people. I mean really, who builds nuclear reactors in Forida of all places? The government of Palm Coast is a bunch of idiots who think that by building walls we’ll be safe. They do realize there are such things as tsunamis and earthquakes, right? No matter how tall you build your walls, they will always fall to something from the inside. I know that I’m two years late to this, but I’ve been wearing sweatshirts in the middle of summer because it’s probably getting colder instead of warmer, and that’s because the atmosphere is being destroyed. I seriously doubt that global warming is still affecting anything. The only thing affecting the Earth now is stupidity.

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