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In River Park, Climate Change Impacts Community

Courtesy Antonio Dumornay
Charlie C. Anthony Park in the River Park area of Naples.

River Park is an historically African American community in Naples, right on the Gordon River. Being so close to the water and canals has both residents and the NAACP thinking about the neighborhood’s future as the potential impacts of climate change become reality.

Like many of the world’s coastal developments, the community of River Park in Naples, FL is facing rising water from storms just outside their door steps.

NAACP of Collier County President Vincent Keeys said the organization has been working to draw attention to the fact that most of the homes and affordable housing units in the River Park community are threatened.

"A lot of the rains that we have been experiencing have been unprecedented. The rains always in the city of Naples have left flooding behind, and we honestly believe that if there is another major storm, they may be underwater," said Keeys.

He is calling for coastal resiliency infrastructure to be implemented in the community to protect the homes and the people there from the rising water.

"It's almost like moving heaven and earth to make these changes, but given some of the solutions, we believe that they could circumvent or deter or reduce our chances of having a major catastrophe for this community," said Keeys.

Antonio Dumornay is from Naples, and his family has been in River Park for a few generations now. He feels like the city is not supporting the community.

"I mean, its efforts to try, but you know, the effort is always a mirage of what it can actually do versus what people say they can do," Dumornay said.

Climate change has a more severe impact on low income people, according to a National Climate Assessment report from 2018, and Dumornay is clear on what that means for the River Park community.

"Wherever there's this disaster, it's a breeding ground for corporations and companies and wealthy families because it can be a disaster for us, but an opportunity for economic growth for those who have the means to purchase property and develop businesses within the area… disenfranchising us to find somewhere else to live or go somewhere else to survive," said Dumornay.

According to Keeys, NAACP proposed plantings at Charlie C. Anthony Park to help add some level of coastal protection, but the city declined their proposal. However, the city is currently considering other proposals for the park.

Keeys also said building more affordable housing and raising the buildings higher are also important things to consider, but Dumornay notes the city of Naples had a responsibility to take care of those who are underrepresented, and, he says, "They failed."

Affordable rents were once $650-$700 a month to accommodate people who make less than $30,000 a year. Now, he Dumornay says rents range from $1,500-$1,800 a month. Poor people cannot afford to pay that rent and still afford food and other household needs.

Dumornay is also not optimistic about the impact of climate change on the community.

"There’s nothing that can protect us from what’s to come," Dumornay said. "We already passed the threshold of where you can actually kind of give pushback on weather... through means of going green, limiting carbon, limiting how much we drill into the ground… As I was growing up, I always thought the oil was the blood of the earth. So, the more we take from the Earth is basically, the more we're killing ourselves."

Keeys is also concerned about the future.

"We are indeed, in a code red state for humanity," said Keeys. "I think about the youth and the next generation to follow. We have an obligation to give them Mother Earth in a far better condition than which we have created right now," said Keeys.

"So the responsibility of, you know, protecting the underserved has been failed by the city of Naples," said Dumornay. "It's not a secret. Everyone knows it because River Park is the only community I know, the only black community I know, that still sits on water."

Naples City Manager Dana Souza was unavailable for comment by deadline for this report.