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Shannon Nickinson: How Pensacola, Escambia County are responding to floods

Stormwater, like many other things, flows downhill.

That was one of the things that last year’s spring floods highlighted. And since water does not respect political boundaries, City of Pensacola and Escambia County officials are venturing into uncharted territory – at least for local governments in these parts.

“We’ve chosen to start with city-county cooperation,” says City Administrator Eric Olson. “We know that in the past our practices led us to the situation where we are now.”

Among the signs of progress on this collaborative front, both the city and county are moving to a 100-year event standard for development for future growth.

That should create incentive for builders to use retention ponds, green roofs, pervious pavement and other development standards that have a lower environmental impact, Olson says.

“We need to try and capture and retain as much water where it falls, and then be able to convey it to the bay in the best way possible,” Olson said. “The problem in the event last April, the system got overwhelmed.”

The challenge is matching those ideas against possible funding sources.

Bob McLaughlin, the former Escambia County administrator, is working on a contract for the city as a kind of stormwater guru. One of his particular charges is to find funding sources for these projects.

“We know Longhollow is a constant issue, so the concept of a chain of parks that are dry during low rainfall but fill up when it gets more rain fits,” McLaughlin says.

Olson says the city may look to apply for RESTORE money to do something about that chain of parks concept.

Two other grant applications would support low-impact development practices. These aim to treat stormwater – as much as possible – where it falls through rain gardens, pervious parking materials and other similar measures.

One is a Hazardous Mitigation Grant application to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to make low-impact development improvements at the county’s Central Office Complex.

Another is a U.S. Department of Environmental Protection grant, administered by Florida DEP, to help homeowners and businesses retrofit their properties with low-impact design features that would reduce the amount of stormwater that flows into the public stormwater infrastructure.

That application is not complete yet.

Collaborating to put city and county support together behind the project that ultimately will help take the most water out of the system upstream is the best way forward.

Which means the answer to reducing flooding in downtown likely lies in areas like the Delano drainage project near the site of the Escambia County Jail and the Central Booking and Detention Facility, which was damaged by a natural gas explosion after the April flood.

FEMA offers something called the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program. It is money that can be used for flood prevention and stormwater in areas where repetitive flooding is an issue.

For every project that gets approved by FEMA in these project worksheets, a portion of the money gets put into another pot that can fund these Hazard Mitigation projects.

The state evaluates them, then forwards them to FEMA for approval.

Total dollar value of the city’s projects submitted is close to $15.5 million.

Escambia County has submitted grant applications for five Hazard Mitigation Grant projects worth about $17.4 million.

Olson says city projects got ranked high, but the county has some big-dollar projects submitted that got ranked higher.

“We’re going to have to look for other money,” Olson says. “We may get one of our Hazard Mitigation Grant Program projects funded.”

Olson says the city should hear by mid-summer if those projects will be funded.

Pensacola Hazard Mitigation Grant projects:

–Lalone property acquisition and demolition.

–Property acquisition at 12th Avenue and Cross Street to increase the capacity of the Fisher Street pond

–Property acquisition near F and Lee streets pond. Three homes will demolished and a larger pond built.

–Strengthening the drainage system on L Street.

–Install a 150,000-kilowatt natural gas generator at the Port of Pensacola to reduce threat of power loss plays to port security measures.

–Qualify the full amount of the Corinne Jones stormwater pond construction cost (estimated at $2.7 million) as an in-kind resource that can be used to provide the city’s 25 percent share of the cost of approved mitigation projects.

Escambia County Hazard Mitigation Grant projects:

–Bristol Park area improvements to purchase repetitive flooding properties along 11 Mile Creek. Cost: $6.1 million.

–Delano Street area drainage improvements. Drainage system improvements in the Fairfield Drive, L, Leonard Herman streets area to include new regional pond(s) and rehab of existing ponds for water quality and flood control. Cost: $7.5 million.

–Lake Charlene area drainage improvements. Drainage system improvements referenced in 2007 Warrington Master Plan, and 2015 Lake Charlene Warrington Study, and as updated for this HMGP application. Plan processes to increase outfall capacity of Lake Charlene. Cost: $1,992,309.

–Pinoak Lane drainage improvements. Construct a new roadway connection to Quintette Road at north end; purchase property to restore floodplain at south end, 1000 Pin Oak (home floods) and parcel at northeast corner of U.S. 29 at South end. Cost: $725,276.50.

–Old Corry outfall ditch property purchase. Pete Moore ditch Jackson Creek floodplain and habitat restoration by purchasing property at 121 New Warrington Road. Cost: $978,881.

Shannon Nickinson is the editor of www.progresspromise.com, a news and analysis website in Pensacola. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

 

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