• Callahan residents Linda and Ken Colsen, Gene Stokes, Justin Williams and Charron Karst-Stokes review maps from a recent vulnerability assessment study during a meeting in the Multipurpose Building May 21.

Study affirms Callahan prime for flooding

A vulnerability assessment shows that areas in and around Callahan are at risk for flooding during hurricanes as small as Category 1. 

The 2019 Atlantic Hurricane Season begins Saturday. 

The assessment’s first phase included results from areas east of I-95 in Fernandina Beach and west of I-95 along areas of A1A and U.S. 301 near Bryceville. 

“We wanted to get more data, because what we found as planners, we do not have a lot of the good science and data behind where we’re especially vulnerable, so you can look at a map and make some predictions, but in our line of work, we need that science to tell us how to make that policy,” said Nassau County Department of Planning and Economic Opportunity Asst. Director Adrienne Burke. She submitted a Florida Department of Environmental Protection resilience grant application to fund the study’s first phase. 

An additional grant request to cover the second phase of the vulnerability assessment is also planned. 

More than 30 residents attended a meeting in the Multipurpose Building in Callahan May 21 to review maps, learn more about the study and voice concerns about flooding and drainage issues. A meeting was also held May 20 in the Nassau County Commission Chambers in Yulee. 

The Balmoral Group Principal Economist and President Valerie Siedel and representatives Craig Diamond and Randall Parkinson were consultants on the $40,000 study. 

“Our charge was to compile all the data to help all of the policymakers in Nassau County as they go forward with long-term planning for these rapidly growing areas,” Siedel said. 

Available maps depict the effects of flooding that happen when hurricanes or tropical storms occur. Periodic and occasional flooding and long-term flooding such as sea-level rise were also studied so that the appropriate planning may be executed accordingly. 

Sea level rise results show an increase of 1 foot along the tidal basins of Fernandina Beach. Though minimal, it still affects areas inland, according to Seidel. 

According to a 120-plus year tidal gauge history recorded in Fernandina Beach, the county has seen a rise of 8 inches during that period, Burke said. 

“Even if we only see another 8 inches in the next hundred years, that’s still a lot more water that we have to be prepared to deal with,” she added. “The planning horizon seems like a long time, but we need this information in our jobs to start making decisions around things that would go into our county’s comprehensive plan, in things that would go into our land development code and working with our building official on how to build safely and properly – public safety is a priority here.” 

During the interactive portion of the meeting, representatives gathered flood information from residents as they marked areas on the maps where they were affected. Several Thomas Creek residents placed stickers where floodwaters hit their neighborhoods in 1996, 2008 and 2017. 

Callahan resident Linda Colsen and other residents expressed interest in learning about hazard-mitigation grant programs. The group met with Nassau County Emergency Management Director Greg Foster separately to hear options. 

She and husband Ken Colsen have experienced a 24 percent rate increase in flood insurance because her area of the county does not have base flood elevation data. The couple has repaired their home after it was flooded due to storms in 1996, Tropical Storm Fay in 2008 and Hurricane Irma in 2017. She asked Burke about the county’s lack of policy related to base flood elevation. 

“That is partially, that is one of the things that helped us, I think, get this grant award, is because one of the things that I noted, and while this study doesn’t do it, but it helps us figure global understanding – is that no, a large part of our county does not have base flood elevation data determined because we don’t have flood insurance studies done by (the Federal Emergency Management Agency), that set those,” Burke replied. “So what’s happening is when like a big project comes in, a new subdivision for example, they’re having to prepare their own FEMA map amendments and have those hydrology studies completed as part of those projects, because we do not have that base flood elevation data. It’s a huge data gap in our county. And that was one of the things I pointed out in our grant application, was that in the interim, this vulnerability assessment will hopefully give us a global picture, because that is a huge data gap.” 

Ken Colsen said that because Thomas Creek wasn’t properly cleared, his property still floods as the water isn’t draining quickly. He recommends dredging the creek regularly. He’s also frustrated because he doesn’t see the same level of activity occurring in Nassau that he sees in Duval County. Work on the creek has continued in phases since the initial work began in 2010.  

“The desnagging thing wasn’t really done,” Colsen said, addressing the group. “I don’t hear any equipment. I did see them around those three bridges down Acree (Road in Duval) and they’re just walking out there picking up sticks, you know, it’s not helping it drain. But you’re getting it in my backyard really quick.” 

He told the Record he plans
to continue to stay informed of the county’s efforts. 

“I’m going to get on the website,” he said. “I’m going to try to come to more meetings to see where we’re at.”

After Tropical Storm Fay hit, Freedom Drive resident Gene Stokes and his family lived in a travel trailer for several months while their home was repaired.  

Roy Booth Road area resident Claudia Witcher recalled how five homes in her neighborhood flooded during Hurricane Irma. She had just placed stickers on a map, indicating her flood-prone area.

“We’ve been working on getting information from the board of county commissioners,” Witcher told the Record. “I’ve met with our commissioner, Justin Taylor. We’ve gone to EOC meetings. We’re just trying to see what they’re doing to fix the problem or improve the problem. I will say, the studies they did tonight are impressive; they’re good. It’s great scientific data and it’s great for those young people. But at my age, I need to see some action now. Nothing is effective for now. Every time a hurricane comes up,  talk about PTSD – it’s like we all have PTSD,” 

Vicki Martin recalled how Hurricane Irma affected her Roy Booth neighborhood. 

“This last time when the water came in, it was twice as fast and deeper,” she said. “I’ve got pictures of people in a row boat in front of the neighbor’s house.” 

Senior Stormwater and Drainage Engineer Katie Peay just joined the county about two months ago. She said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will study the drainage and flooding concerns associated with Thomas Creek.

A contract for the county commission’s consideration will soon be submitted.

“That study should show all possible outcomes of the situation down there,” Peay said. “(It will) look at all sea-level rise issues, or just regular flooding issues, hurricane issues and the best possible course to mitigate those, whether it’s to desnag, or what permits we need or how much it’s going to cost and really get a comprehensive plan in place. Then we can go to the board and say this needs to happen and we can allocate money because we have this study to prove that this is what will fix it and not just grasp at straws.” 

The next steps will include finding ways to fund the mitigation. 

Storm drainage is also a concern for Callahan resident Wynette Eleby-Harris. 

She has problems with standing water on her Historical Lane property along U.S. 1 North due to a non-functioning culvert. 

“We’ve been filling in, adding dirt as much as possible so that we can get out of the front door when it rains,” she said.  

County employees add-ress faulty or clogged culverts as complaints occur. 

“If it’s a small section, it’s usually inspected and repaired as needed,” Peay said. “If it’s a large stretch, engineering or a consulting firm is called in to propose a project and get funding.”

Burke noted in an email Wednesday afternoon that the study would be forwarded to the county commission for its consideration for adoption as a resolution. 

“We definitely will be continuing outreach in general around floodplain management and flooding,” she wrote. 

To view the entire assessment, visit www.nassaucountyfl.com and click on “Review the draft Vulnerability Assessment here.”

Nassau County Record

Nassau County Record
P.O. Box 609
Callahan, FL 32011

Physical Address
617317 Brandies Avenue
Callahan, FL 32011

Phone: (904) 879-2727
Fax: (904) 879-5155