By Joe Capozzi
Town officials may soon take a hard look at resiliency related policy changes to protect Ocean Ridge from future storms, flooding and climate-change projections.
Among possible changes for a coastal town that historically has battled drainage issues: raising the height on new and rebuilt sea walls, and raising the elevation on roads when they are repaved.
The ideas were discussed at a joint meeting of the Town Commission and advisory Planning and Zoning Board on Jan. 11, nearly two months after the town experienced serious flooding by Hurricane Nicole, which made landfall 80 miles north, near Vero Beach.
“For us, it is like the eleventh hour at this point,’’ Commissioner Martin Wiescholek said. “It is unconscionable if we do not do anything about this right now.’’
Nicole, a Category 1 storm, dumped 4.87 inches of rain over a two-day period on Ocean Ridge — the highest total of any town in Palm Beach County. Aside from the rain, the flooding was exacerbated by storm surge and king tides induced by a full moon.
In some neighborhoods, roads became impassable and water came within inches of breaching homes.
“The biggest problem beside the potential for it coming into people’s homes was that the roads became unnavigable,’’ said Vice Mayor Kristine de Haseth.
“The one that really concerned me was that the Ocean Avenue bridge was closed for 26 hours. If that storm had taken a sideways turn and gone from a 1 to a 3 and we all decided we’re finally going to heed the evacuation that was suggested, there wouldn’t have been the opportunity necessarily to use that bridge to get off.’’
Town officials will review what Palm Beach County and other coastal towns require for sea wall height. Most new sea walls in Ocean Ridge are capped at 4 feet, said building official Durrani Guy.
“Hurricane Nicole had 2-foot swells and half the walls were breached,’’ he said. “We need to look at this and I do believe we need to mandate at least 5 feet for new sea walls.’’
Raising the road elevations may create new problems, commissioners and board members agreed.
If street surfaces are raised an inch or two, in some cases they will be higher than residential driveways and yards, increasing the need for swales to prevent water from flowing into driveways and homes.
“There’s no easy answer, but I think we’d be remiss in continuing spending any municipal dollars at the level we are at knowing it’s already a problem and it’s a problem that’s going to continue to get worse,’’ de Haseth said.
“I don’t have a solution. I just want everybody to be conscious of it,’’ she said. “We just can’t keep doing what we (have done) and expecting different outcomes.’’
Nicole should serve as a wake-up call, Wiescholek said.
“We were on the good side of the hurricane. It was a Category 1 that didn’t hit us and we had water up to people’s front doorsteps. At some point we have to go: You know what, accept the reality. This is what’s happening, and we have to do something about it,’’ he said in an interview in November, a few days after Nicole made landfall.
“We need to shore up our sea walls, we need to bring the town higher, we need to raise the roads. None of that is cheap. Those are massive spending bills, but if we kick the can and say let’s look at it next year, we will always be behind the [eight-]ball.’’