ST. MARYS — The ultimate goal of an ongoing study of the impacts of sea level rise and flooding in St. Marys is to save residents money.
But having a downtown historic district makes it complicated for homeowners to protect their property and stay within the rules for making improvements. Those properties are given special consideration and homeowners can receive subsidized flood insurance rates.
That was one of the messages people learned Friday at a St. Marys flood resiliency plan work session.
Kelly Spratt, local government outreach coordinator for Georgia Sea Grant, said the intent of the study is to provide citizens and city officials the information they need to make good decisions to minimize flood damage when it occurs.
“This has truly been a community project from the beginning,” she said. “Nobody knows the county like you do. This is all a very public process.”
The ongoing study will include a cost-benefit analysis in its recommendations and identify the most vulnerable areas and possible actions to take.
St. Marys willingness to participate in the study could potentially lower flood insurance rates and has attracted attention from other areas.
“St. Marys is a model for coastal communities in planning for flooding and sea level rise,” Spratt said.
Feedback from residents shows a nor’easter, not a hurricane, is the No. 1 concern for flooding.
That’s a concern for those conducting the study because of fears many are “lulled” into a false sense of being safe from a hurricane because of the city’s geographical location on the coast.
Jason Evans, assistant professor at Stetson University in DeLand, Fla., said there are lots of predictions on how high sea levels will rise, but the lowest estimates are eight inches over the next century.
The city currently has 6,436 structures, most of which are outside flood zones. Of those, 292 are in the 100-year flood height and 1,200 could be damaged by a 500-year flood.
“In terms of overall risk they’re actually pretty low,” he said. “It’s been good planning by the city.”