The Conservancy of Southwest Florida is incredibly thankful to our members and supporters for rallying together at last week’s public meetings to help ensure that the focus of the U.S. Army Corps’ Coastal Storm Risk Management (CSRM) feasibility study is on creating a plan that improves storm resilience while safeguarding our coastal economy and coastal resources.
Over 400 people attended the April 18 virtual meeting and close to 200 attended the in-person meeting held on April 26 at the South Regional Library. Michele Hamor, Chief of the Norfolk District’s Planning and Policy Branch, stated that the attendance at the virtual meeting was one of the highest she had seen.
On April 11, 2023, the Board of County Commissioners voted to support a continuation of the 2018-2021 CSRM study. The Board’s letter to the Army Corps stated: “This path forward includes reformulating the recommended plan from the previous three-year study, to address local and community concerns regarding the potential impacts and design of various recommended features.”
The Conservancy was concerned that the previous recommended plan, if not significantly modified during this new study, could result in a plan that negatively impacts Collier County’s coastal environment and economy. Supporting documents by the Army Corps from the previous study stated that the surge barriers, gates, and floodwalls would result in “temporary to permanent impacts to aquatic resources and habitats that range from moderate to potentially significant.”
The Conservancy requested that the Army Corps take a vastly different approach during this reinitiated CSRM study, to include nature-based solutions to storm resilience and to value the many jobs and businesses that are dependent on a healthy coastal environment. Conservancy science and policy staff attended both public meetings and the three-day stakeholder meetings (April 25 to 27). At the stakeholder meetings, the Corps representatives listened to input and ideas from numerous local experts, which will help the Corps formulate alternative storm resilience plans, prior to the Board of County Commissioners’ vote on a Tentatively Selected Plan, which is an important milestone in the process.
During and prior to the April 2023 meetings, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida staff, supporters, and members sent emails to the Army Corps and to the Board of County Commissioners that focused on five main requests:
- Allow for more public comment and additional public meetings.
- Offer a locally led alternative that would work best for our local coastal economy and coastal environment, instead of the previous recommended plan.
- Include nature-based solutions in the planning effort.
- Invite the Corps’ “Engineering with Nature” team to be part of the process.
- Include local scientists and engineers and other local experts in the process.
The Conservancy was very pleased when the Army Corps stated that they will commit to all of these things, and they even offered more improvements from the previous study.
Here is how the Corps stated they will improve opportunities for public input:
- Although June 7, 2023 is the formal scoping period deadline, the Norfolk, VA Army Corps team stated that they will allow informal public input any time after that date. Comments are to be submitted here: Collierfirstname.lastname@example.org (We still encourage you to try to meet the June 7, 2023 deadline, because the sooner they hear from you the quicker you can influence the plan Alternatives).
- The Army Corps team has stated they will schedule additional public meetings over the summer, after they come up with plan alternatives. The Conservancy is very happy about this, as these meetings will allow the public to weigh in on different proposed alternatives before the Board of County Commissioners vote on a Tentatively Selected Plan. The dates of the additional meetings are still to be determined, but should be made available soon and will be posted on their website here: https://colliercsrm-usacenao.hub.arcgis.com/.
- The Army Corps team stated they are committed to allowing and encouraging input from local scientists, engineers, and experts, in addition to state and federal agency experts.
The Conservancy believes that the Army Corps and Collier County are headed in the right direction for this study, which should result in a storm risk management plan better suited for our community. We thank our supporters for making this happen!
We also thank the Army Corps for modifying their approach from the previous study, for adding additional opportunities for public input, and for really taking to heart the concerns brought forth by the Conservancy and the public. We look forward to working with the Army Corps and the County during this ongoing CSRM study.