Policymakers have crafted programs in recent years to encourage storm hardening and resiliency, and there’s a community in Southwest Florida that recently showed how that kind of preparation can pay off during extreme weather events.
Kitson & Partners CEO Sydney Kitson spoke to attendees at the Florida Chamber’s 2022 Insurance Summit about one resilient community in Florida that recently passed a big test — Hurricane Ian.
Kitson’s company led the development of Babcock Ranch in Charlotte County. The planned community is home to about 20,000 residential units and six million square feet of commercial space, and much of the planning was dedicated to ensuring those homes would still be standing after a major storm.
“Everything that we did in planning Babcock Ranch was with a hurricane or weather event in mind because back when we first got to work, Charley had just come through we had Jeanne and Francis — all those hurricanes back in ’04 and ‘05 that had come through. So, we wanted to prepare for that, and we really got to work on it,” he said.
Crucially, the homes in Babcock Ranch are built 30 feet above sea level and the development is situated next to 80,000 acres of preservation land, much of it wetlands.
“We didn’t disturb these wetlands. We’ve embraced them. They become part of our community and people love it,” he said. “It’s part of our community and I think people really enjoy that, but the other thing is we have an incredible amount of (water) storage capabilities.”
He added, “If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that Mother Nature doesn’t care what you do, that water is going to go where it wants to go and if you’re going to try and go against Mother Nature, you’re going to lose — you’re going to lose every time. So, that’s what we did. We designed this entire community around where these natural flow ways were.”
Utilities are another major piece of the resiliency puzzle, and Babcock Ranch was prepared on that front as well thanks to underground power lines and a large Florida Power & Light solar facility, complete with a 10-megawatt storage battery.
Still, Kitson described Ian as a “worst-case scenario” that put Babcock Ranch’s planning decisions to the test. It passed.
“Here’s the thing that I think people will tell you through this hurricane that was extraordinary: We were the only place in Southwest Florida — certainly in Charlotte County through most of Lee County — that had power through the entire storm. We never lost power and everyone around us did, and not only did we not have to boil water, we had water flowing. Everything worked there.”