A sea wall vulnerability study addressing flooding in Delray Beach’s future is on Mayor Shelly Petrolia’s agenda.
Consultants estimate the city will have to spend $378 million to sufficiently protect parts of the city from the predicted flooding. Petrolia said she wants to get started on the project soon because it will only get more expensive if the city delays.
“We cannot sit back for another five years,” said Petrolia, who noted that the city already has been dealing with king tides that often flood parts of the city each fall.
Petrolia has consistently attended the annual Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact conference. It addresses how governments can best prepare their areas for the effects of the changing climate and rising seas.
Petrolia said she is taking the lead to create an enterprise fund to pay for the recommended work. She said she is hoping her fellow commissioners will embrace the idea.
She said she is looking for guidance from governments that are already grappling with similar flooding. She cited Monroe County as “the canary in the coal mine.”
Monroe County is raising 300 miles of roadway in the Keys so that residents can continue to live there efficiently. Many part of the Keys suffer chronic flooding and residents often are trapped on their properties until the floodwaters subside.
Petrolia believes that Delray may have to require builders to adopt new strategies, such as higher elevations for foundations and a moratorium on underground garages where the land is just a few feet above sea level.
She said the city also should consider raising road levels and requiring builders to use permeable concrete.
She said the city should take the same proactive approach to the sea wall issue that it did with the beach renourishment program. In combatting beach erosion, Petrolia said, the city was able to use federal money to help pay for the work. She hopes there will be federal dollars available to help with sea-level rise.
Consultants presented the report and hefty cost estimate to the commission earlier this month.
Although Petrolia had questions about some details in the report, she said, “I basically agree with the assessment.”
Jeff Needle, the city’s Storm Water Engineer, reported that the town is addressing the sea-walls challenge unlike many neighboring towns.
The mayor acknowledged that raising the money to pay for the work will be challenging.
“At the end of the day how we pay for this huge undertaking is key. I believe it is better to start early with a small amount over a long period of time,” she said. She further wants to lobby the state and federal governments due to the crisis status that could be reached.
Petrolia plans to work with both the state and federal governments to help tackle the problem. She also said she wants to make sure that the cost of the work is distributed fairly.
“There is the thought of equitable distribution as the areas generally most at risk are four miles along the coastline and one mile west,” she said.
“We are not in a dire situation and we do have the means to buy time to stave off effects over the next decade for raising sea walls while we continue on many other fronts preparing Delray for a secure and lasting future,” Petrolia said.
Benita Goldstein is a writer and resident in Delray Beach.
“The Invading Sea” is a collaboration of four South Florida media organizations — the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald, Palm Beach Post and WLRN Public Media.