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March 20--ST. MARYS -- Regardless of the cause, one certainty is sea levels have steadily risen since the last ice age and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
Chuck Hopkinson, director of Georgia Sea Grant, told an audience of about 50 people at a meeting in St. Marys Wednesday the local trend shows sea levels in the region have risen more than eight inches during the past century and appear to be rising even faster.
He said scientists have "a high level of confidence" sea levels will rise anywhere from eight inches to as much as 6.6 feet in the next century.
He put the risk in simpler terms property owners will understand. In the next 30 years, the life of a typical mortgage, sea levels in the area are expected to rise anywhere from several inches to as much as 1.6 feet.
"We're talking about water, too much water, in places you don't want it to be," he said.
Hopkinson and a team of other researchers have begun a study in St. Marys to develop a flood resiliency plan and to hear feedback on issues related to flooding, sea level rise and storm surge.
He showed a map of how the city would be impacted by a direct hit by a Category 1 hurricane during high tide. Most of the city's downtown area would be flooded by a 9-foot storm surge.
"There's going to be a lot of water with a Category 1 storm," he said.
Researchers intend to tailor a plan with recommendations linked to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Community Rating System program, focusing on recommendations that, if followed, may provide residents flood insurance rate reductions.
St. Marys was one of five cities selected for the study through a nationwide grant competition funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Sea Grant Program. The findings will be shared with other coastal communities in Georgia, North Carolina and other areas in the nation.
Kelly Spratt, local outreach coordinator for Georgia Sea Grant and University of Georgia Marine Extension, expressed confidence the study, which will be completed in June 2015, will provide useful information.
The federal flood legislation that has caused concern among property owners in coastal communities has been modified by Congress and is awaiting the president's signature, but that doesn't mean it's gone away forever. Spratt said some areas of the country could pay more for flood insurance than the actual risk they face.
Spratt said the goal is to lower flood insurance rates in the city anywhere from 5 to 15 percent.
"The rating system does recognize communities that take steps above minimum standards," she said. "It's a tremendous amount of work, a lot of effort."
St. Marys government staff, elected officials and key stakeholders will participate in two days of in-depth discussions beginning today to explore how vulnerable and prepared St. Marys is in responding to hazardous flood events. A follow-up public meeting planned for this fall will focus on presenting a cost-benefit analysis of possible adaptation actions.
SBlt Reporter Gordon Jackson writes about Camden County and other local topics. Contact him at [email protected], on Facebook or at 464-7655.
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