The Coastal Star

Delray Beach: $378 million price to fix flood-prone areas stuns commission

By Jane Smith

When local TV stations look for scenes of tidal flooding, Delray Beach is the poster child, city commissioners heard on Feb. 12.
That set the stage for a stormwater consultant’s report stating the city will need to spend $378.2 million to keep homes, offices and restaurants safe from flooding caused by higher tides, storm surge, heavy rains and sea-level rise.
That multimillion-dollar price tag astonished the commissioners. “How are we going to manage a $300 million endeavor in little Delray Beach?” Mayor Shelly Petrolia asked.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency requires cities to update a stormwater master plan every five years to allow property owners to get reductions in flood insurance rates. The consultant had been retained by the Public Works department to prepare the plan update.
The price tag in the report covers only the 13 most flood-prone areas of Delray Beach. Other parts of the city would be addressed later, said Jeff Needle, the city’s stormwater engineer.
Two of the flood-prone areas are west of Interstate 95. The remaining 11 sit along both sides of the Intracoastal Waterway.
Fixes for Marine Way, which floods several times a year, were not included in the total amount because the road is part of a separate project, Needle said.
Delray Beach is trying to determine who owns Marine Way and acquire the easements. The estimated $2.8 million needed remains in the current year’s capital budget.
Even so, the road is among the 14 flood-prone areas listed by the consultant, Alex Vazquez of A.D.A. Engineering.
Of the 11 Intracoastal locations with price tags in the report, the Tropic Isles neighborhood was the most expensive at $157.2 million.
It sits on the west side of the Intracoastal south of Linton Boulevard. The fixes include new outfall pipes that have back-flow prevention devices to stop tidal water from flowing in, lined stormwater pipes to prevent groundwater intrusion and raised roads.
The lowest amount needed was $6.4 million for a portion of Southeast Seventh Avenue, south of Southeast Seventh Street.
A small section of Atlantic Avenue east of the Intracoastal was included in an area that needs about $28 million in fixes.
Delray Beach last updated its stormwater master plan in 2000, Needle said.
Commissioners were so overwhelmed as Vazquez showed various hydrologic models and higher-level math equations that they were content to approve the stormwater master plan that same day.
But commissioners decided to wait until June to prioritize the stormwater projects when they discuss the city’s capital budget.
On Feb. 12, the commission also declined to discuss a sea wall ordinance without specifying a return date.
Needle said most of the sea walls along the Intracoastal Waterway will need to be replaced or raised. Delray Beach owns less than 1 mile of sea walls. The remaining 29 miles of sea walls are held privately.
The city will have to coordinate with the private property owners, Needle said, creating the need for an ordinance.
Petrolia asked the city staff to send the stormwater report to U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel. The congresswoman called a forum of mayors and city managers in her district on Feb. 11 to ask what their needs are. She was just appointed to the appropriations committee in the U.S. House.
At that meeting, Petrolia asked for money to raise roads. The stormwater plan, she said, will bolster that request.
In other action on Feb. 12, the commission:
• Decided to keep the start of its regular meetings at 4 p.m., despite several people saying that start time doesn’t allow working people to attend. The mayor and Deputy Vice Mayor Shirley Johnson wanted to push the start time later, but they were outnumbered by three commissioners. The commission will revisit the start times in six months.
• Formally approved Lynn Gelin as city attorney. Her salary will be $195,000.

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