St. Augustine ‘too valuable’ to ignore sea level rise, new state funding could help

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — There’s a major funding boost that could soon be in the works to fight against local flooding and sea level rise.

It comes after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed two bills this week that many believe will better prepare the state against climate change.

St. Augustine leaders have been addressing sea level rise since before that term existed.

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For a city that’s more than 450 years old, climate change is an existential threat, and city manager John Regan knows it.

“St. Augustine is too valuable, we can’t afford not to be addressing resiliency,” said Regan.

It’s why Regan and his staff are getting ready to apply for a new grant program announced by Gov. DeSantis this week that would free up millions of state dollars to address flooding problems.

“This funding is critical for the city of St. Augustine and other cities because of the scale of the projects that we need to accomplish,” he said.

The sea wall along Avenida Menendez can withstand up to a category 2 storm. It was completed in 2014 and is one of the many projects St. Augustine has completed to address rising seas.

But Regan said there’s still a lot more work to be done to fortify the city.

“How much money do you need?” asked Lorena Inclán.

“More than we can get through the grant program,” Regan said.

For perspective, St. Augustine’s annual budget is about $60 million.

Regan said the money needed is more than the city’s entire budget.

The St. Johns River Keeper, Lisa Rinaman, believes the new program doesn’t go far enough.

“It is a first step and much more needs to be done as well,” said Rinaman.

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According to Rinaman, sea level rise doesn’t just threaten the coast but as Irma showed us, it also affects inland waterways like the St. Johns River.

“This is not something we can buy our way out of, we need to have a strategy that involves good water policy, infrastructure improvement, as well as making sure we’re doing everything regarding our energy policies to combat climate change,” said Rinaman.

Action News Jax showed you Thursday how much of the money being used for this grant program is coming from an affordable housing trust fund.

While there’s no easy way to address the issue of climate change, both local environmental advocates and city leaders say — it’s a start.

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