The sea wall, one of St. Augustine's historical landmarks, is under attack, so the city has launched a project to come to its rescue. And following a public informational meeting about the project to save the sea wall, there is no doubt that the community considers the sea wall important both as an important historical landmark but also because of its essential flood control function.
The public informational meeting was held at City Hall on Thursday, October 20 starting at 7:00pm. Representatives from the city's Public Works Department and Taylor Engineering, consultant’s for the sea wall project, offered a brief presentation that included diagrams and artist's renderings of the project, details of the scope of work and the construction schedule after which they were available for questions.
The sea wall, that barrier wall of coquina capped by slabs of granite between Avenida Menendez and Matanzas Bay, has protected the downtown from flooding for nearly 170 years. The original sea wall north of the Bridge of Lions was lost to the widening of state Highway A1A in the 1950s, but the section south of the Bridge of Lions remains intact. That is the portion now in need of repair for two reasons: it must continue to function as a flood prevention device, and it must be preserved because of its historical significance.
The preservation and rehabilitation plan includes the construction of a new barrier, like a new sea wall, twelve feet out into the bay from the current sea wall. This will encapsulate the historic sea wall, protecting it, but leaving it exposed along the top so that it becomes a significant part of the new park. Construction is expected to take approximately one year.
A detailed presentation was made for the City Commission by Public Works Staff regarding the project. To view the presentation, click here.
The sea wall's importance in flood protection is indisputable as is its historical significance. But it is also important for its aesthetic contributions to the city and the quality of life. In part to alleviate some concerns over "just what will it look like," Taylor Engineering developed some point-of-view rendering of before and after in the vicinity half-way between the Municipal Marina and the Florida National Guard Headquarters. Those renders are below.
Securing the funding for this important project has not been easy or fast, and many, many people worked many hours on research, writing grants, and simply working the issue to bring this very important project to fruition.
City officials started in 1999 seeking funds to repair the seawall following damage resulting from Hurricane Floyd. Dozens of public meetings and workshops were held and the Commission spent hours in hearings in efforts to gain federal support for the project.
Lack of matching funds resulted in a missed deadline for a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) in 2001, but work continued with funding from the Florida Inland Navigation District (FIND) for conceptual designs in 2002. There were reviews of the plans by Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (Section 106 review), the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), and the city’s own Historical Architectural Review Board (HARB).
Then there was Tropical Storm Faye in 2008 which caused additional damage to the seawall but opened the door for qualification for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Flood Mitigation Assistance Grant program. In early 2009 the Environmental Assessment was completed and the Memorandum of Agreement was executed allowing FEMA to move to the next step of awarding the grant to the Florida Department of Emergency Management (FDEM) who will then sub-grant to the City of St. Augustine.
In August, FDEM received the award letter from FEMA, which has now submitted the sub-grant to the City which has accepted the grant.
For construction on the project to commence in January, there are a number of tasks that have to be completed including the selection of a contractor. That process is currently well underway. But another critical element of the project is also getting underway, well before the first day of actual construction: the element of public information. The meeting held on October 20 was just the first of many such efforts to ensure that the public is well aware of the project's progress every step of the way. Regular project updates will be made available through the city's Web site, through News & Notes, as well as throughout the area media.
Questions regarding the sea wall project or the public information meeting on October 20 should be directed to the Public Works Department at 904.825.1040.