St. Pete Beach tackles flooding with ‘water threats protection strategy’

Rather than continue with several stormwater master planning efforts, city officials said the new approach is to combine projects into one comprehensive water threats protection strategy.

ST. PETE BEACH — When it comes to preventing street flooding now and in the future, this city will undertake a “comprehensive water threats protection strategy,” utilizing input from five engineering firms who will make recommendations on how to address flooding from both the Gulf and bay due to storms, tidal action and sea level rise.

During a Feb. 9 City Commission meeting, Public Works Director Michael F. Clarke advised the “city has to expand its approach to mitigate water threats that include all water sources.”

“Through the years 2018 to 2020 there was a growing observation by many residents and staff that the city is experiencing increasingly higher localized flooding caused by natural phenomena occurrences, including abnormally high regular tides, King Tides and sea level rise,” Clarke explained. In some instances, flooding was exasperated by rain events.

“Due to these observations, the city changed its policy in mid-2020 to prepare projects to mitigate flooding from bay tidal events, instead of localized flooding from rain events,” he advised.

The most recent data shows that “it appears we have reached a pivot point of how we should proceed with our analysis of defending against tide-stormwater inundation and sea level rise,” he told commissioners.

Rather than continue with historical parallel stormwater master planning efforts, he explained the new approach is to combine projects into one comprehensive water threats protection strategy, with three levels of urgency — a 5-year Capital Improvement Plan, 15 years out to 2035, and 30 plus years to 2050 and beyond.

He suggested the new strategy to dealing with stormwater will allow the city to develop a comprehensive approach that can be implemented over time.

“Engineers will track the flow of water to identify where and how it flows inland, and then develop mitigation strategies. In general, water will enter the inland portion of the island, thereby causing disruption by flowing through the existing stormwater conveyance system; it will surge over existing seawalls and other barrier structures, and it will flow through the Gulf sand dune system. It will back up in the existing conveyance system during extreme precipitation events,” Clarke explained.

As more information is analyzed and compiled, the city will still identify the location for recommended mitigation and its cost. Discussion will include the public and private responsibilities to bear those costs, Clarke explained.

The public works director said the city’s long-term stormwater plan will be updated into a water threats protection strategy. The analysis will center on threats to the island including transportation mobility and access-egress, street flooding, critical infrastructure protection and private property preservation.

Clarke told commissioners five geographical areas have been identified for study. “We should align our engineering analysis to these geographic areas, and identify the sources and arrival points to engineer imaginative defensive strategies. Finally, defensive strategies in geographical proximities must be interconnected to provide a single comprehensive island strategy.”

Areas on the island earmarked for study in the 2021 budget include:

• An expansion of the city’s initial study of street flooding in the Don CeSar and Boca Ciega Isle neighborhood.

• The northern section of the city will have a continuation of analysis from CPWG and new task orders given to Kimley-Horn to study flooding issues.

• An ongoing seawall study conducted by Cardno will be expanded in Pass-A-Grille.

Direct threats to Gulf Boulevard from the Gulf of Mexico will be studied by George F. Young, with a water surge and overtopping sand dune threat from the Gulf analyzed by Kimley Horn; the firm will map all FDEP permits that allow sand dune destruction.

Research will also be conducted to assess water threat scenarios, and either validate existing seawall height requirements or make recommendations.

Clarke suggested additional funding approaches should be explored including grants, fees, environmental bonds, private-public partnerships and others.

City to assume more operations at art center

Since 1981, the city has furnished space to local artist groups under the Suntan Art Center umbrella for the purpose of pursuing the creative endeavors. Jennifer McMahon, Parks and Recreation director, told commissioners a new memorandum of understanding will give the city more control over its facility, while still providing a venue to local artists.

She explained the Suntan Art Center, currently operated by volunteers, has not been used since COVID struck last March. This made the city rethink its agreement terms to better utilize the building and allow it to be marketed as a city facility.

“The City and Suntan think this affiliation is essential for the enhancement, maintenance and purveyance of the arts, art instruction and history of the arts in the St. Pete Beach area. The City owns the historic Don Vista Building and adjacent parking lot, located at 3300 Gulf Boulevard, which generally serves as a location for community activities and artistry,” McMahon said.

City Manager Alex Rey noted some people “don’t realize this is a city-owned and managed building, they think is part of the Don CeSar. We need to be able to overcome that and really put the facility to its best use; it really hasn’t had that much use.”

As part of the new memorandum of understanding, Suntan will see an increase in rent to $800 a month from $500, to cover the city taking over utility and internet payments. In addition, the city will be responsible for all facility rentals and program classes in addition to Suntan’s offerings.

The city will maintain custodial services and participate in once-a-month street fairs on the small side street between the Don Vista and the Don Cesar.

McMahon said the new agreement “allows us to expand our programming from the Community Center to do things when they are not utilizing it. We are working together; when they have classes they will operate the building, when they don’t we can fill in those spaces with some overflow. It gives us more space and allows us to control the rentals and what may go on there in the evenings or weekends.”

Under terms of the agreement, Suntan Art Center will maintain and pay for repairs to the glass and clay kilns. It will also provide and expand art and recreational classes that are substantially different enough to not directly compete with programs or classes being offered by the St. Pete Beach Community Center. Suntan will also host special art-related workshops and hold periodic member exhibitions, member-featured artist shows, and annual open art exhibitions.

City officials said during outdoor events they would provide barricades to serve as a visual barrier to prevent visitors from using the space for beach access.

City commissioners unanimously approved the new agreement with Suntan Art Center.