Commentary: We Have a Chance to Degrade Our Home — or Add Value

Dear Nassau County Commissioners,

The county’s reduction of coastal building height in 2021 was appropriate and in line with both the foundation of our economy and the state’s encouragement to improve coastal sustainability and resiliency through resiliency grants, development of regional council resiliency collaboratives like Resilient First Coast, and development of a state-wide vulnerability database (https://floridadep.gov/ResilientFlorida).

Cities and counties across the state have been conducting vulnerability studies, actively participating in FEMA’s Community Rating System, hiring floodplain managers and chief resiliency officers, upgrading building standards and updating their comprehensive plans and land development codes. These efforts are forward-looking–efforts to prepare for and manage our future. They also are efforts to help citizens prepare for and manage our future.

Rather than looking forward, voting to accept the Riverstone settlement seems to be looking backward to an understanding of the environment and models of operation of the past. It is would commit the county and its citizens to far greater long-term costs in terms of our economy and the impact of sea level rise, flooding and global warming to achieve a short-term savings — less Bert Harris litigation. Does this make sense?

The long-term costs of allowing new towers on the island include the following:

Impact on the foundation of our economy: The Nassau County tax base is largely dependent on Amelia Island tourism, and natural resources are an essential part of Amelia Island’s sense of place that attracts tourists. Gil Langley, head of the Amelia Island Tourist Development Council and CEO of the Amelia Island Convention & Visitors Bureau, often states that our environment is the foundation of Amelia Island tourism.

Based on our experience with residents, we know that this environment and the small-town character of Fernandina Beach are major attractions for property owners, as well. We know from the research of Ed McMahon and others that the sense of place in a location is critical to its future economy (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qB5tH4rt-x8). In fact, it is our competitive edge. Loss of our sense of place could prove quite costly for all in the county. Conservation of this land would strengthen our sense of place and add value to our economy.

Impact of storm damage, sea level rise, etc. on the county: Removing and weakening our environmental protections (our maritime forest and dune structure) will increase the fiscal impact of such events on the county. 

A number of articles have been published recently predicting the loss of real estate taxes and a weakened economy in local jurisdictions that will result from sea level rise, flooding and other disasters.

The following study, which predicts that at least $108 billion in assessed values are at risk nationally from sea level rise by 2100, also contains a link to its research on specific counties, including Nassau County: https://assets.ctfassets.net/cxgxgstp8r5d/2KKeTjnqbFelWrZalnPeRR/9a28719038f3a1dddbdd2e8b78b8455b/CC_Sinking_Tax_Base_20220908a.pdf).

Some commissioners feel confident that coastal storm or flooding damage will be at least partially reimbursed by the federal and state governments. However, FEMA has long discussed changes to its problematic system of disaster response, and it already have tremendous debt.

In the future, the costs may well be far more than either the federal or state governments can manage, and Florida is one of the most vulnerable states in the nation. We cannot assume that local governments will be bailed out.

Impact on the insurance industry and our citizens: Any impact on risk will further impact the insurance industry in Florida. We live in a state where the insurance industry is quite unstable, with vanishing and insolvent companies. The state program designed to respond to this crisis is quite expensive. We also need to be quite careful that we don’t increase our FEMA CRS rating and make flood insurance rates rise even higher.

Many cannot afford insurance, particularly not flood insurance at current rates. As a result, many citizens will be displaced by flooding and lose everything they have. (https://news.climate.columbia.edu/2022/11/03/with-climate-impacts-growing-insurance-companies-face-big-challenges/#:~:text=In%20additiohttps://the1a.org/segments/how-climate-change-factors-into-home-insurance-pricing/https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/interactive/2023/obx-rodanthe-erosion-rising-sea-levels/)

Land conservation is one of the most effective examples of nature-based approaches to sustainability and resiliency and an approach we have adopted as a county.

To demonstrate the rather dramatic changes in how major traditional professional groups are preparing for the future, we are including a link to a day-long workshop sponsored by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine in collaboration with the US Army Corps of Engineers’ Engineering with Nature Program and the Water Institute of the Gulf.

In Measuring What Matters Towards a More Comprehensive and Equitable Evaluation of Benefits | National Academies, the speakers represent governmental agencies, engineers, scientists, businesses, NGOs, the insurance industry and the World Bank. It is worthwhile to sample the presentations in the first half of the program to get a sense of what they are doing. Then, in Session 5, we recommend watching the relatively brief presentations of:

1)    Sarah Murdock of The Nature Conservancy, starting at around 5 minutes and particularly where she talks about the cost of future damage versus conservation;

2)    Kari Mavian of DOW, starting around 13 minutes, who talks about the business case for nature-based solutions with examples. She also talks about tools that DOW uses; and

3)    Brett Stewart, Manager, Loss Prevention and Education for AXA, the 4th largest insurer in the world, starting at around 32 minutes.

By participating in collaborative efforts to research and implement nature-based approaches, they are addressing climate issues effectively and economically.

The future of our county is in your hands, not only in this decision, but in less obvious approvals and the establishment of priorities. The longer we defer more forward-thinking approaches to coming hazards, the greater the impact on our taxpayers. As a result, we believe that a far more productive investment in the long-term future of Nassau County would be the purchase and conservation of this parcel, perhaps for addition to the state park.

We believe that a combination of federal and state funding, a portion of CLAM funding, help from land trusts and local fundraising would enable us to cover this cost. This approach would:

— Enhance the current foundation of our economy,

— Maintain the protection of the south end of the island and the county mainland that is provided by the maritime forest and dune structure on this parcel,

— Contribute to lowering our FEMA Community Rating and perhaps provide a foundation for more stability for our county in the insurance industry.

Respectfully submitted,

Wendelle Burdick, Patricia Bux, Richard Doster, Lauree Hemke, Terry Grady, Frank Hopf, Pastor Carlton Jones, Cynthia Jones-Jackson, Margaret Kirkland, Tammi Kosack, Alexandra Lajoux, Roger Nordlinger, Elise Pearlstine, Len Pearlstine, Richard Polk, Robert Prager, Faith Ross, Ron Sapp, and Joyce Tuten –founding members of Conserve Nassau

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Lucy Peistrup
Lucy Peistrup(@lucyp74)
10 months ago

I urge everyone to invest in reading Paving Paradise (http://pavingparadise.org/). It is a well researched book written about TEN years ago about the FAILURES of wetland mitigation and how the Army Corps of Engineers continue to issue permits to placate developers DESPITE the concerns of their own engineers, DESPITE the concerns of FEMA, DESPITE the KNOWN FACTS that everything they are doing creates harm to the environment and to the PUBLIC they are serving! Both sides of the political aisle are shown to be complicit in their lack of concern for our state for want of THEIR piece of the $$$ pie because they FORCE the hand to get their pet projects through on environmentally sensitive property. It is beyond maddening what is happening and the fact that they KNOW and DO NOT CARE is even worse.

It is ALWAYS about the $$. He who has the most wins. Our current legislature is working on ensuring it stays that way, sadly. Two bills are pending to ensure that.

I wholeheartedly agree with everything stated above, but fear our commissioners will allow these developers do just like the rest—bring in the dozers. 🙁

Deborah Kessler
Deborah Kessler (@guest_68709)
10 months ago

Thank you to members of Conserve Nassau who are diligent in staying informed to protect our community. Very well said, “Based on our experience with residents, we know that this environment and the small-town character of Fernandina Beach are major attractions for property owners, as well. We know from the research of Ed McMahon and others that the sense of place in a location is critical to its future economy (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qB5tH4rt-x8). In fact, it is our competitive edge. Loss of our sense of place could prove quite costly for all in the county. Conservation of this land would strengthen our sense of place and add value to our economy.”

Dman
Dman(@darryl)
10 months ago

I do not wish the property to be developed or support the developer – but am concerned that our declaration of “victory” after the county commission vote was premature. We all want to believe the lawyer who says we are right, however legal opinions are not consistent and there is a distinct possibility that the county will not prevail in Bert Harris litigation. Should the county lose, significant expense will be added to each and every property owner’s tax bill and the towers will go up as the developer plans anyway. Many property owners already struggle with their tax bill and cannot afford an increase. This article points out a wise alternative – buy the property from the developer to save it. I have no idea of the math and where the funding might come from. If this alternative turns out to be realistic (I hope so) I would much rather be spending money on a great outcome rather than taxes on a loss in court.

Lyn Pannone
Lyn Pannone(@lyn-pannone)
10 months ago
Reply to  Dman

So you’re suggesting that anyone who threatens a Bert Harris claim, the county should settle with them? Read the opposing attorneys opinion again and see why Bert Harris does not apply. The county needs to stand firm.

Dman
Dman(@darryl)
10 months ago
Reply to  Lyn Pannone

wow did you even read what I wrote? No Lynn I did not suggest that the county should settle with anyone who threatens a Bert Harris suit, I did not comment about settling whatsoever. calm yourself.

Lucy Peistrup
Lucy Peistrup(@lucyp74)
10 months ago
Reply to  Dman

Our county has done so much back door dealings that ARE costing us (WILDLIGHT WILDLIGHT WILDLIGHT!!!!! Grrrr) currently that I WILL pay extra to ENSURE that THIS property is either 1) NEVER developed or 2) SENSIBLY developed. It CAN be sensibly developed, HOWEVER these jerks REFUSE to do tree surveys, REFUSE to accommodate the existing population around the area. The whole STATE is already suffering due to the ignorance of those who thought they didn’t “need” flood insurance just because they weren’t in a flood zone. Our whole state is susceptible to flooding thanks to the IDIOCY of development so it is pure ignorance on the part of ANYONE to not have it. It infuriates me for people to NOT have it because my once $250 policy is now $700. We will ALL now be paying 1% MORE for homeowners insurance thanks to hurricane damage (also due to building where building should NEVER have been done), so pay for it one way or another—taxes or insurance—if you live in Florida—you will pay for it, unfortunately. Until the powers that be get their heads out of their behinds and see that destruction of wetlands and natural resources like large trees are not the way to go, we are doomed. 🙁

Connie
Connie (@guest_68713)
10 months ago

The current mindset of our County management is not about forward thinking resiliency. I speak from experience regarding 17 acres of property containing Egan’s Creek that I nominated to be conserved through CLAM funding. This natural infrastructure is already being used to drain the storm water runoff of all the residential subdivisions along Will Hardee as well as Egan’s Landing, yet its current and future land use is zoned R2. When I spoke before the CLAM committee, it was obvious that they were not familiar with this particular nominated parcel and asked me many questions that went well beyond my 3 allotted minutes. Taco Pope shut down the conversation with the same refrain I’ve heard over and over, that this property will never be developed because it is mostly wetlands. I asked him afterwards, “why is it zoned for development then?” He had no answer. I will not trust anything regarding the future of this critical piece of natural infrastructure until it is conserved.

Lucy Peistrup
Lucy Peistrup(@lucyp74)
10 months ago

https://flarecord.com/stories/641739816-florida-senate-passes-bill-allowing-cities-to-recover-attorney-costs-in-lawsuits-over-local-development-plans#.ZELA7lvvN28.facebook

The STATE is attempting to make it IMPOSSIBLE for the average citizen to speak out against ANY DEVELOPER.

Take heed folks. Take heed. These bills are headed to the governor’s desk. His head is on things OTHER than our state right now, so he’ll sign this trash without thinking of the long term consequences of it.