As the seas rise along South Florida’s coast, Delray Beach is joining the roster of cities trying to hold back the tide.
It’s an issue that puts South Florida at the forefront of a global climate-change debate, with the future of region’s economy and neighborhoods on the line.
Taxpayers could bear the brunt of the battle.
The Delray City Commission decided Tuesday to call a Town Hall meeting in coming months to share its climate-change goals and get property owners to buy in to reduce flooding in their neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, in Miami Beach, construction has already begun on elevated roads and pumps that help to dry streets after floods. And in Broward County, beach dunes have been built and sea walls raised. Municipalities have invested in sensors, gates and pumps to push water out of neighborhoods.
Broward County is considering rules that would require seawalls to be 4 feet by 2035 and 5 feet by 2050, under a proposal from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The increased heights would protect coastal communities from an expected 2 feet of sea level rise over the next 50 years and at least a foot of potential storm surge, officials said.
South Florida counties have been meeting since 2009 to coordinate efforts through the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact. Still, record flooding continues to inundate neighborhoods and coastal roads every year.
In Delray Beach, the action this week is the first in a $378 million plan to save the city’s neighborhoods from knee-deep floods that plague several neighborhoods, especially in October during the annual king tides.
The cost was determined by an engineering team that said roads and sea walls have to be raised and pipes improved to protect streets from rising waters associated with climate change. There’s only one mile of public sea wall; about 20 miles are private.
The cost of the plan left commissioners reeling in February, so they decided to tackle the plan in smaller steps.
“This is a huge nut for a local municipality to be dealing with, and we’re just one of many,” Mayor Shelly Petrolia said. “We have to have buy-in from the public.”
Guus van Kesteren, an Intracoastal Waterway homeowner, said he has raised his sea wall a few inches over the years, but he estimates it’s about 60 years old. He said his property floods every October during the king tides. He agreed that a citywide effort is needed to heighten the sea walls.
“Whether I like it or not, it’s something that needs to be done,” he said.
King tides, an October flood exacerbated by the full moon, are an annual problem in Delray Beach and other coastal cities. Tides cascade over sea walls intended to keep water from the Intracoastal Waterway out of neighborhoods. Some of these sea walls are more than 70 years old, although they were built to last only 30 years.
Delray Beach’s goal is to get sea walls to 4.2 feet in the coming years, said Missie Barletto, assistant public works director. Almost 80 percent are below 4 feet now; some are below two feet, according to her presentation to the commission.
Delray Beach has already heightened about half of its public barriers on the Intracoastal, Barletto said.
Fort Lauderdale officials have estimated the cost of replacing a seawall at more than $1,000 a linear foot, or about $125,000 for a 100-foot wall.
Petrolia asked the Delray Beach staff to bring back a proposed law that would require homeowners to raise their Intracoastal barriers. The law will be useless unless everyone participates, she said, because the overflowing water will flood through the lowest barrier if they are not all heightened.
“All have to be done,” said Neal de Jesus, interim city manager.
“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.