Kevin Guthrie used the word “resiliency” or its derivatives 13 times in his appearance before the Flagler Tiger Bay Club today, underscoring the state director of emergency management’s focus in the aftermath of Hurricanes Ian and Nicole. Then Palm Coast Mayor David Alfin almost put him on the spot.
“We use the word resiliency in many, many different ways. It’s starting to lose some of its meaning and teeth,” Alfin said. “My question to you is for local leaders that we have here today,” and there were many, “resiliency means to recover, to recover quickly. But my question is more about how do we recover differently, because if we recover the same way we have in the past, we’re not really making any progress.”
Guthrie is a wonk, a data nerd and an all-business man of action. He can play politics but he doesn’t like it (he used to be Flagler County’s emergency management director and got out when the politics became toxic and the County Commission didn’t realize what it had in him). Still, he is essentially a member of the DeSantis administration. It’s not a climate change denying administration the way its predecessor’s was (Gov. Rick Scott forbade the use of words like “climate change” in official documents). DeSantis isn’t fond of the words, either–he purposely puts the words in quote–or any “left-wing stuff” to fight it. His administration has done nothing to combat C)2 emissions or sea rise and other factors that are now aggravating natural disasters and make “resiliency” essential.
So Guthrie had to choose his words. He did, and with the kind of preface that illustrates how careful state officials have to be when they speak the kind of language that could be mistaken fora Greenpeace dialect.
“I will tell you, and this is 100 percent Kevin Guthrie talking from the hip,” Guthrie said. “It is not the policy of any agency or governor or anything of that nature, okay? so I just want to qualify that with my dear friend. I think the answer to that is, to your point, Dave: we’ve got to rethink resiliency. We’ve got to rethink how we do that. And it’s got to–as I mentioned in my talk–we have got to get to a point where we no longer just restore the beach. We’ve got to figure out what is the engineering, what is the things that need to be behind the scenes.”
He described flying over Fort Myers a dozen times after Hurricane Ian devastated the region. “Fort Myers Beach is catastrophic, biblical cataclysmic, whatever word you want to use,” Guthrie said. “90 percent of the structures out there did not survive. 90 percent of them are gone. It’s going to be rebuilding an entire city. But when that went across that one-third-of-a-mile island, one-quarter-mile island of Fort Myers Beach, and it hit the mangroves? 18-foot storm surge flattened to four to six feet. Nature-based solution has certainly got to be part of that conversation.” There was some applause, the only applause he got aside from the enthusiastic rounds he got at the beginning and end of his talk.
He got greener before modulating. “And again, it’s got to be, how do we do coral reefs? How do we do mangroves? Again, I don’t want to be lynched by environmentalist. But beach quality sand is hard to come by. in Volusia County, where’s the majority of the beach quality sand right now? It’s in the Intracoastal. So there needs to be a dredging situation where we pull that sand, that beach-quality sand, back out of the Intracoastal and put it back on the beach. That’s fact. So it may have to be brought offshore onto the beach. It may be able to be trucked in from somewhere else and put on the beach. But even the holistic version of bringing the sand back, bringing the beach back, has got to include some type of engineering. That is, a resilient engineering that’s going to be there for the next 50 years, 100 years.”
Guthrie is also partial to sea walls. He cited the Marineland sea wall. “To my knowledge, no issues. It’s still there,” he said, which was actually correct: the sea wall is still there, but the beach, the dunes, the vegetation no longer are: the stretch in front of the sea wall, once redolent with sandy dunes and ocean greenery, is now a red, Martian landscape of impassable rock. Guthrie appeared to be aware. “Now, do I like seeing a sea wall in Marineland? Probably not. But what can we do different that will actually have the seawall there, but then how do we cosmetically, how do we put the lipstick on the pig? We’ve got to get to that point. And it’s got to be a holistic solution. It’s going to involve academia. It’s going to involve federal and state agencies, local agencies, it’s got to involve homeowners on how we get that done.”
In an interview after his talk he specified: he was not talking about sea walls from Palm Beach to Jacksonville, but a mixture of re-engineering that mixes sea walls with natural solutions. “My job is to get the right smart people together and just coordinate that conversation on behalf of the government to do those things,” he said.
Still, to that point he’d not uttered the words “climate change” once, nor mentioned any role for policies tackling climate change, as opposed to policies and approaches focusing on “resiliency”–or how to deal with consequences of climate change without addressing them at the source. So Guthrie was asked point blank: where are Florida’s policies addressing climate change?
“Certainly, Governor DeSantis in the last four years has done more for Everglades restoration and return to the natural flow of water in the Everglades than any other Republican governor ever in the history of the state,” Guthrie said. “I think the best predictor of future performance is past performance.” He said the governor brought the right people together to get to that point. “He’s given me direction to start bringing the necessary agencies together” and devise solutions. “And then you’ll see the governor come out with some type of announcement in the future, a legislature announcement in the future, on how we’re going to try to start building back a more resilient coastline.” He pointed to the special session of the Legislature starting Dec. 12 as the first indications in that regard.
It had been a tough run for Guthrie in the last few weeks, with two hurricanes back to back. Guthrie apologized for losing track of time as he started his talk, now knowing if it was morning or afternoon. “We’ve been working 57 days straight, 16, 20-hour days” between the two hurricanes, he said, before delving into the way he’s managed his division, the direction he’s given it and the principles he runs by.
“My title is not state commander. My title in a disaster is state coordinating officer. I’m not in command and control of anything. Now, statutorily, do I get to command and control? Yes, I do. But the title that’s given to me is as state coordinating officer. So again, we want to communicate, coordinate, collaborate with our partners for resilient Florida and hopefully, people like Jonathan and others in emergency management”–he was referring to Jonathan Lord, Flagler County’s emergency management director–“have seen a fundamental shift in difference in that from being a command and control freak, for lack of a better term, to helping coordinate, collaborate with each other.”
After acknowledging the half dozen elected officials and judge in the room, Guthrie singled out one person for particular praise: Isabella Tarsitano, a home-schooled sophomore and intern at Flagler County Emergency Management who launched a website called Hurricane Helpers, guiding residents to emergency services, and who organizes efforts ” to help members of our community prepare and clean up after a hurricane.”
It was Guthrie’s third visit to Flagler in four weeks, the first two with DeSantis. Guthrie repeated his intention to retire to Flagler. He could’ve caused a few myocardial infarctions among the county commissioners in the room (Greg Hansen sat at his table) when he said that he might run for a county commission seat, but he softened that warning when he said he wouldn’t move back until he’s 62 or older. That’s not for another decade.
Tonda Bian says
With the growing body of evidence supporting climate change and its devastating effects, Guthrie’s points are well taken although he was relegated to riding the fence on the rhetoric. He seems to be doing his research and his point that the tried and now no longer true is consistent with continuing to do the same thing and expecting different results. I lived in Flagler County for 20 years and experienced three hurricanes within a few months in 2004; none of them was as powerful nor as damaging as Ian and Nicole. So here is to a new solution to a worsening issue-beach erosion. Finally, it doesn’t take a village, it takes a planet to tackle climate change and all its ramifications.
Talk is cheap
Brian Riehle says
Note to Kevin Guthrie…….Don”t forget that Mother Nature and the Atlantic Ocean have more Command and Control over this than you or the Governor.
The dude says
But God created DuhSantis on the 8th day?
Surely that gives him other super powers besides just hate, bigotry, and racism?
Mother Nature has ALL the Command and Control and could care less about Kevin or the Governor or Anyone Else. A BIG STORM will take out all that new stuff on the north end of the city one day too, old mother has the power and is in CHARGE All the meetings and cheap talk in the world is not going to change it.
jeffery c. seib says
Of course, he cannot mention climate change, that would go against all the folks waiting to build and cash in on the maintaining the status quo. Here’s what he didn’t say if he knows anything about the data that he supposedly looks at every day. Storms of this nature and capability for widespread catastrophic damage are going to with us in greater and greater number and degree of severity until we wake up and begin to think of what he said, resiliency. Trouble is, that may mean not building on every available inch of space and who in the Tiger Bay Club would want that?
Ed McCaskill says
Relativity: There are few if any government officials, local, state nor federal with a viable solution to the problems facing Flagler County and other locations affected by natural disasters.
Emergency Management is a human endeavor that is a combination of cause and effect solutions. The relevant study of cause and prevention of natural disasters will change as communities grow and more people relocate into harms way. Priorities involving budgets and estimated costs for disaster mitigation wanes as time passes. Take for example the coastal variety of oak trees that were limb to limb, called a hammock, in Washington Oaks Gardens State Park east of SR A1A prior to the salt water intrusion that killed them all. Hurricanes Matthew and Irma did a lot damage immediately visible to Flagler residents. Soon afterwards millions of dollars were spent to restore the dunes. The dead oaks forever changed the WOGSP east of A1A. If those trees had been replaced with nursery grown varieties suitable to this ecology they too would be dead or dying now. These trees are evidence to the rare event of total ecological change caused by Hurricanes. The damages to the Flagler County beaches were led by Atlantic offshore Cat 2 Matthew, then 11 months later the west coast storm Irma that reached across the State and easily vacated the new sand dunes. With the mind set that this occurrence was rare and most likely would not happen again for many years if not decades, restoration was accomplished in a manner that was considered “good enough”. Question now. What to d0. That’s an easy answer…….you can do only what you can afford. If a Cat 1 storm can take down the dunes just imagine what a stronger storm would do. Search Irma and the small gulf city of Mexico Beach. If you can afford a home built to take a Cat 5 then you are safe, most however will suffer. Basically you will just roll the dice, and restore as before and hope the storms miss you because that’s all your budget will allow. The Marineland Acres drainage project mathematically excluded the implications of sand filling the pipes and basins. The flood waters were engineered to be gone in 72 hours +- free and clear of obstacles. In other words the drainage system is specific to one set of parameters. Mother Nature does not follow those rules.
Short of an ugly and massive rock jetty there is nothing anyone can do to prevent a hurricane from repeating or even worse than what we have recently endured. A major storm will still wreak havoc to coastal homes and roads.
I would like to see the scenarios of how the new to be paved roads in Marineland Acres will react to high velocity ocean encroachment as the flow undermines the edges by the exposed sand easements and driveways that are not required nor planned to be made of a durable substrate. Lets be honest, the drainage systems were designed for a rain event not a flood. Rain water will obey the math and slowly dissipate via gravity to the retention areas and beyond. Years without major storms will be enjoyable as long as the system is maintained properly.
OK so you want to be a hero, great we need heroes. Petition those that matter and request the County/State to buy or build a Rock Farm. (some exist now). Natural coquina boulders to be mined and deposited along our beaches. No! No! not like those now. be artistic, irregular, sea turtle friendly, lookout stations, removable or protected durable walkovers and other thoughtful ideas that work.
Good Luck to Us All.
Roy Longo says
Didn’t they do a sea wall in the northern part of Flagler Beach that is now covered by dunes or partially covered? If so, why not the rest of the beach?
DOT built a sea wall in north Flagler Beach to Beverly Beach as a “covered” sea wall, with ample dunes. The dunes—the entirety of the sand—had washed away. The wall held.
Guthrie tied his tongue in knots avoiding the words “climate change” so Desantis won’t fire him. As Macbeth said “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.”
Keith Vinnicombe says
Over 1.2 trillion tons of ice was lost last year. Water levels are going to rise 2’ to 3’ feet by 2050. Global warming might be an inconvenient truth to these Republican’s. They obviously have their head in the sand as they throw taxpayers money away on sand re-nourishment programs that do not work. We need interlocking concrete tetrapod’s along our dunes and breakwaters to anchor the sand. We must protect what’s left of our dunes because they protect the rest of Florida. After years of abuse and man made destruction the dunes are now on life support. We have lost over 10 feet of dunes with hurricane Ian and Nicole and the next big storm will punch holes all along what is left of our dunes.
Our so called leaders are responsible for the safety and well being of the citizens and to keep our public roads open. Especially evacuation route’s. We don’t need band-aides we need a concrete solution.
The dude says
Good thing climate change is just a hoax perpetrated on us by China…
Imagine how bad it could be if climate change were real?
DuhSantis used the same wording:
How about Climate Change?
Why is the county still approving developments along A1A?
You will NEVER be able to hold back the forces of the ocean and a hurricane pushing its waves into the shoreline.
So why not STOP building along the shoreline. If not then pay the piper ever time a Hurricane comes our way.
Is the same good old boy political power promoted speech…as they all need to CYA with the governor to preserve their jobs or even be elected to office in FL. This time they swiftly responded to repair A1A after IAN and Nicole of course “during elections time” otherwise will be months or years as usual. In FL our infrastructure sucks comparison with other cities and states and our coastal waters, our touristic magnet is relegated to covered contamination to protect greed! In our cities or counties provided utilities reserves are illegally used to benefit developers expansion as they are exempted to pay the proper “impact fees” dumping on the shoulders of current customers the forced sharing of decaying 0ld systems and or increasing their rates for the same failing service, that takes 18 months to repair a water main mudding a house front yard or 2 months to repair a sewer main after a hurricane that created a sink hole in these over 96 years old navy veteran homeowner front yard. Meanwhile our utility rates keep creeping up.
I see out west in cities were the infrastructure is properly in place to preserve the quality of life, safety and the value of their homes but their biggest budget expense sustained by tax dollars are “Utilities and Public Works”, here is the Fire Department when we are not whiting CA wildfires needs as the last one in Palm Coast was in 2008. Now the council and mayor decided to buy a parcel for half million to move our old fire station something that will cost millions, to relocate in Colbert and Palm Coast Parkway…what more pressing priorities like the lifesaving sidewalk for Cimarron or the Traffic Calming Islands just denied to Florida Park Drive and life saving speed humps in other residential roads like Slow Way or Blare Castle etc. ? Regarding our sheriff as well costly, but at least he keeps crime at bay except (Big exception) that is not fighting as hard animal dogs cruelty (specially pit bulls trained to fight or dogs victimized for bait found discarded dying in county shoulders) and properly ordering to raid, investigate and hard jail the dog fights money making organizers… Animal cruelty and abuse is also a crime Sheriff Staly and these good (only few bad ones) old boys illegally profiteering from animal cruelty in Flagler County need to be jailed for a long time. We have cases were the investigation went nowhere, why? Dog fighting or train to fight needs to be done with in this county as is as lawless as any other animal fighting activities/ rings, no matter how much open country western Flagler is. In order to serve better the taxpayers services to be rendered, politics need to be taken out of Fire, Law Enforcement, Planning and Zoning and instead Utilities and Public Works need to be moved up front from the back burner in Palm Coast budget and before our infrastructure caves in further. Lets see after sworn in the two new council members Pointieri and Heighter if things will improve! Meanwhile Mr Guthrie is trying to do his best given the powers that be…
Ed McCaskill says
Eagle Scout/Native Floridian/Navy Vet/Ecologist
Climate change is fact not fiction DUH!
Politics is a disease of human endeavor, the old saying “money talks etc” and “you get what you pay for” hold true. Problem is you can’t buy off Mother Nature. She can however run you off.
So political action is a “show me the money” game. If politically connected land owners, developers, tree huggers you name it. If they want a favor, a solution to their problem or an advantage in the market place then its theirs for the asking, all they have to do is quote a few facts and insert a lot of BS to a Bill or request and it happens.
Lets say politically you can make millions for yourself and your facilitators by promoting “climate change”. You bloviate to the masses (useful idiots) that sea levels will rise etc. You make your millions, retire and quietly build a mansion on the coast. (You know this guy don’t you) Two things are certain death and taxes but that’s a political statement. More certain is that humans are gullible, greedy by nature (survival of the fittest) and driven by hormones (hunger, sleep, procreation). Taxes are just a recently new method of achieving our basic human needs. Relocation has always been a viable option to humans when their basic needs are in jeopardy. Civilization has its moments of glory but pain and suffering is more prevalent.
Fast forward to recent Hurricanes. I laugh at the “climate change” cry wolf clan. History shows us that coastal disasters occurring many decades ago have totally destroyed some barrier islands. I know first hand, my grand parents house and land no longer exist. NC, TX, AL, FL and more, no one area is exempt. Do you think that Flagler A1A developers let climate history influence their decision to build. Yes, some paid attention others did not. Climate change is not created by politicians nor scientists but is used as a means to achieve an end. I want to buy stock in the company that drills into the dunes down to bedrock or equal, installs fiberglass rebar in temporary fabrication interlocking molds and them fills it with concrete. Why? These interlocking concrete piles survived the hurricanes Ian and Nicole. No its doesn’t mean the seawall is the solution but politically they got the funding before and now they can say it worked and lobby for another multi-million dollar contract. You see its the game not the solution. Game being “show me the money”. An unacceptable solution and hard to swallow as previously posted is “retreat inland”. Years ago FEMA paid homeowners not to rebuild in certain river valleys prone to 100 year flooding in the central US. Before Matthew when was the last time A1A was washed out? Did anyone get paid to move? If you are an islander or island lover you want minimum development, less traffic, no franchise retailers on the coast, sound utilities, reduced pollution, traditional values and friendly neighbors. Go to the Flagler Beach Museum (yes it does exist, ask Charles Lindbergh) take a look at the pictures, notice something very interesting?
God Speed or Quantum Physics take your pick.
Ben Hogarth says
I can empathize with state and federal officials (including Kevin) who have to walk a thin line when building a coalition of support for necessary action on climate change. We continue to see the devastating impacts from increased frequency, duration, and intensity of inclement weather, tropical cyclones, tornados, and wildfires wrought by extreme droughts. To make matters worse, these acute events pale in comparison to the long-term and persistent consequences of climate change such as the droughts out west, which are steadily erasing the water table and water supply for farmers and people alike. The environment is changing and most of it is not for the better of human civilization.
So then comes the question of sea level rise and storm impacts on people living along the coastline. As I’ve said in previous discussions, sea walls and dune restoration are temporary remediations for a losing war. Retreat is the only viable option. To put this into better perspective for the more fiscally minded individuals, insurance companies can no longer afford to cover claims. Why? Because the number of claims is greater than not just the collection of premiums from the insureds, but also the timeline and ability to collect before the next series of claims. In other words, hurricanes in states like Florida are so frequent that insurance companies never recover their losses in time before the next series of losses from the next storm.
Sea walls ARE a better solution than rebuilding dunes, which are eliminated each storm event. Sea walls WILL prevent damage in some storm situations where dunes failed. Sea walls WILL hurt water quality. Sea walls WON’T permanently protect coastal infrastructure. ONLY retreat can do that – and it’s better to have the more difficult discussions now and pay up front costs than to have the reality smashed in our faces later and have the cost be 10-fold.
This isn’t a delusion or a political spectacle. It’s happening in real time. Insurance companies are taking real losses and leaving the state. People are really losing life, livelihood, and/or home. Businesses are closing or being destroyed. Ecosystems wrecked. Water polluted. And time wasted.
It’s time to dig our heads out of the dunes people. This isn’t a drill. It’s a 5-alarm fire.
Has anyone stopped for even a short minute or two to consider that it is ONLY in beach areas where humans have all of this development and built roads and structures that there is constant talk of beach erosion and what can be done in an attempt to stop Mother Nature’s incursion of ocean water? What is happening to our coastal beaches as the result of climate change, the ferociousness of hurricanes and storm surge causes more and more erosion and the loss of sandy beaches is not just happening here in Flagler and Volusia, but all up and down the east coast. And yet, people seem to only get concerned about the developed areas. Could it be that if we widened our perspective and realized that the enormity of this perceived “problem” were looked at more holistically instead of just pinpointed in areas where we live and work, that the solution could be more easily recognized? I believe that instead of the millions and millions of tax dollars spent, mostly in vain by the way, to redo and redo and redo beach renourishment and other efforts to fortify developed areas along the coast would be better spent by moving infrastructure back farther away from the ocean, especially in light of the fact that here in this country we still have not fully acknowledged that climate change is real nor have we made significant headway in mitigating it’s damaging impacts. To be spending taxpayer money trying to keep what we have built at the ocean’s edge while not addressing the larger issue that will continue to destroy all that is there seems foolish and a waste of public resources.
Christopher Goodfellow says
Sounds like Guthrie read my Facebook post last October 3 in which I called for a complete re-thinking. Almost word for word so I am pleased my views have some impact.
October 3, 2022. Comments after Ian.
“Something tells me the big move to Florida is over….there will not be many new people moving here for the forseeable future.
It will take some time for waters to recede but it is pretty obvious Ian is a life changing event. Not to beat a pun to death but Ian is a sea change. Economies both local and state are going to be affected for some years. Many businesses will simply not reopen from this. Yes we have recovered from past hurricanes but Ian is a culmination of long neglected warnings that we cannot ignore any longer. Whether you want to argue about climate change and sea level change is irrelevant now. What is relevant is coastal real estate is no longer economically insurable unless we do what is necessary to secure it.
Too much of Florida is low lying and the lack of will to harden sea defenses means that low lying areas have to be abandoned. I doubt insurers are willing to carry the risks or consumers will not be in a position to pay the premiums. Of course lenders are not going to write uninsured mortgages. It is all a mugs game now.
If the will and leadership were there to build the necessary surge and flood defenses then maybe we could go forward but my experience with local commissioners in Flagler regarding buttressing the dunes and building sea walls and breakwaters tells me they just aren’t listening or sufficiently intelligent to understand the solutions. No one wants to face the hard news and hard decisions.
All the work done in Flagler Beach – the millions spent – all for nought because of the deaf ear towards breakwaters. There are three lines if defense to coastal zones. Breakers, sea walls and dykes (massive dunes at least 30 feet high above high water). Inlets must be protected separately with tidal gates to protect against storms.
The sea is powerful and water weighs 12lbs per gallon. The momentum forces of waves are enormous. The only way to deal with this is massive breakwaters to reduce the force before it reaches shore. It is technically feasible and it is the only way to protect the shorelines of the entire east coast against the erosion we are seeing. They do this in the European low countries and have done so for centuries.
Our dear Commissioners think a $50 million plan to pump sand from 10 miles out is the solution. It isn’t. It is just another futile gesture against a force thst must be dealt with with a greater force. Seawalls are good but they need the breakwaters out there to reduce the waters’ momentum. Rebuilding sand dunes again is futile if the dunes cannot withstand the reduced force of water after it encounters the breakwaters.
I have watched with a certain amount of sad amusement the repeated waste of money by St Johns County on the breach north of Marineland which by my count has been repaired four times in six years with the fifth repair now required. Sand is simply not the answer.
Breakwaters are unsightly. I will give you that. They will change the seascape and views along a clear shoreline but at this point we either abandon the coast or deal with it as adults and not as pork barrel carry sand from Ocala projects which neither provide protection or a solution for all of us and, yes, bankrupt us.
Im fed up with politics in America. This constant bickering of and about left and right. The inability to come to any serious consensus on how to solve issues. The juvenile distractions like the Matha Vineyard stunt and a local Commissioner talking about sending people out on trains. It leaves me totally exhausted.
The focus of governance needs to be on the things that really matter. We have had enough warnings with all these hurricanes. Florida is in serious trouble because we have not taken care of business. We are a low country just like the Netherlands. Billions if dollars of real estate is at issue here. As if it were not bad enough with the destruction of Ft. Myers imagine if Ian had plowed into an even more populated Tampa Bay.
All of us need to grow up and understand what is at stake here. Millions of lives and livelihoods are on the line. As real estate is abandoned and or loses value, the property tax revenues upon which the entire government structure depends on shrink. We have seen leaps in value these past few years. We will see dramatic drops.
We cannot continue with business as usual.”