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Army Corps coastal risk study looking for public input, pending approval from Collier County

Riley Hazel
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is reinitiating a 2018 study to look at measures to reduce damage from storm surges and hurricanes.

Additional measures to mitigate damage from hurricane-related events might be in Collier County’s future if commissioners agree to a study conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Collier County Storm Risk Management feasibility study, originally initiated in 2018 with public input initiated by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, has the potential to identify measures to reduce damage caused by coastal storms.

After the study is published, possible actions could be the implementation of surge-barrier systems, tide gates, floodwalls and dune fill. The study would be entirely federally funded, with a $2.97 million cost. Including the first iteration of the study, the total cost will be $5.97 million.

“When we look at it from the federal taxpayer perspective, and we're trying to explain it, say to someone in Montana, why would they care about a project in Florida,” Michelle Hamor, the chief of planning and policy branch for the Army Corps of Engineers, asked. “That's because we're investing money where we're going to get a return on that investment.”

Construction is expected to take 10 years or more, according to Hamor.

Before the study expired in 2021, the Corps was waiting on an Environmental Compliance Policy Exception approval from the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, which would have deferred environmental compliance until Pre-construction Engineering and Design when the design could be further developed, nearing a final report.

The 2021 study recommended 11 miles of beach and dune renourishment, four floodwalls, two surge barrier systems and two jetties. It was estimated that 39,100 buildings would be impacted by the structural systems. Floodproofing and elevations for 778 buildings as nonstructural measures.

Now, the Corps is looking to work with Collier County officials after they requested more time and money from federal officials to allow them to revisit the plan back in August.

“That's our goal is to restart that study,” Hamor said.

Hamor and her team have heard the need for additional coordination with the public. The Corps will also consider lessons learned from Hurricane Ian.

“We want to reach out to the public to provide additional opportunities to share the study status and then also additional opportunities to get public feedback,” Hamor said.

While some fear the impact on property value along the Collier County beachfront from possible seawalls and jetties, other residents point to the safety and well-being of the county.

Denise and her husband, who own property in Collier County, believe that county officials and the Corps should look at ways to benefit all Collier County residents, not just those who own property along the beach. Denise declined to give her last name to maintain anonymity.

“When people buy property this close to the ocean, they know what the risks are, as far as hurricanes go,” Denise said.

Denise’s husband, Ken, believes the money should go elsewhere.

“If beach residents are not insured then maybe they ought to sell,” Ken said. “I do not think that my taxpayer dollars should be paying for a wall to protect the already wealthy who live on the beach. If they want to put up a wall between their house and the public beach, they can do that. I don't think I should.”

In a 2020 letter to the Corps, the City of Naples addressed concerns from staff and residents touching on natural and nature-based measures and structural and non-structural measures. The letter also touched on public feedback and the need for the inclusion of city officials as the study largely works with staff on the county level.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is reinitiating a 2018 study to look at measures to reduce damage from storm surge and hurricanes.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is reinitiating a 2018 study to look at measures to reduce damage from storm surge and hurricanes.

The Naples City Council was briefed on the next steps of the project in late January.

“Our interest is to engage the community,” Naples City Council Member Terry Hutcheson said. “We need to undertake a community-wide outreach effort to directly seek resident feedback, and I believe that [the Corps] are going to have it.”

The Corps has requested that the City of Marco Island and the City of Naples participate in weekly project coordination with Collier County and their own officials.

The Corps is now waiting on a vote from the Collier County Commissioners to initiate the next step, a draft report. If the study is approved, completion is anticipated for August 2025.

A vote from the commissioners is expected to come next month.

The previous study and additional information can be viewed on the Corps’ website.

This story was produced by Democracy Watch, a news service provided by Florida Gulf Coast University journalism students. The reporter can be reached at  rjhazel4249@eagle.fgcu.edu.