A better storm surge plan for Collier County requires input from all stakeholders

April 10, 2023

A plan to reduce Collier County’s risk from storm surge and improve coastal resiliency is more important than ever. Collier County’s population is extremely susceptible to sea level rise and flooding because of low-lying typography and miles of development along the coast, rivers, and bays. Furthermore, scientists predict hurricanes will increase in intensity and are likely to cause more rainfall. This means another hurricane with the strength of Hurricane Ian, or stronger, could hit our community again. The Conservancy of Southwest Florida appreciates that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) is spearheading efforts to mitigate storm surge impacts and improve resiliency through a re-initiated feasibility study, called “Collier County Coastal Storm Risk Management” (CSRM).

US-41 from Bayfront. One proposed location floodwall

If this study sounds familiar, it is. Starting in 2018 through 2021, the Corps designed a CSRM plan for Collier County that focused heavily on constructing hardened structures on much of our coastline. These structures included extensive floodwalls along a number of our roadways, and massive gated infrastructure at a number of our waterways, including Wiggins Pass and Doctors Pass, designed to close during storm surge events. The visual, economic, environmental, and quality of life impacts of this plan on our community cannot be overstated. However, in 2021, for numerous reasons, the Corps stepped away from this planning process. Now, they are back and poised to reinitiate planning with Collier County. 

What you need to know:

  • The 2020-21 Corps plan, with its emphasis on hardened structures, will likely be the basis for the current planning process.
  • According to the most recent information shared by the Corps, they intend to engage with the public sometime in April for a series of charrettes and public workshops.
  • As far as we know, this will be the only opportunity for stakeholders to meaningfully engage and provide input on the Corps’ plan.
  • The Corps, led by the Norfolk VA District, will then take the public input received in April and create their recommended plan, called a Tentatively Selected Plan, which will be presented to the Board of County Commissioners in October for either approval or denial.

It’s important to understand that once a Tentatively Selected Plan has been created, the County’s ability to significantly modify or change the plan is extremely unlikely. As an organization that works closely with the Corps’ Jacksonville District, we understand that input at the beginning of the process is critical. The good news is that the Corps wants to hear from the public, stakeholders, businesses, and experts. However, if the community does not get engaged, we will end up with a plan that is likely not responsive or beneficial to our local needs.      

Doctor’s Pass – proposed location of gated infrastructure

Fortunately, it is possible to design a storm resiliency plan with the goal of protecting life and property, as well as preserving and enhancing natural coastal resources, which are important for maintaining the many businesses and livelihoods that make up Collier County’s robust economy. Tourism, fisheries, and the marine industry are major sectors that contribute to our economy. It is our hope that property owners and businesses, recreational and commercial anglers, ecotourism outfits, hoteliers, restaurant owners, natural resource managers, and local scientists and engineers, among others, attend the meetings and provide input. Commissioner LoCastro stated that he wants “massive amounts of public comment.” We could not agree more.

Resiliency plans require time to capture and incorporate broad community input, yet the Conservancy is extremely concerned that no public participation plan is available yet.  We hope to learn more at the April 11th Board of County Commission meeting.  The Conservancy appeals to everyone who cares about Collier County and this region to stay informed and engaged over the coming months regarding this process, which will shape the future of our coastline.