Campus News Georgia Impact

New Georgia Sea Grant project helps communities plan for future

Georgia Sea Grant, a public service and outreach unit of UGA, and North Carolina Sea Grant are launching a project to help the Georgia city of St. Marys and Hyde County in North Carolina plan for sea level rise, increased coastal flooding and intensified storm surges.

Funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the project is part of the National Sea Grant College Program’s nationwide effort to assist communities in preparing for the current and predicted impacts of these and other coastal changes. PSO units, which also include the Carl Vinson Institute of Government and the Marine Extension Service, see particular value in the project as a means of helping ensure long-term economic livelihood in coastal communities.

St. Marys is one of the cities in Georgia that is the most vulnerable to these impacts.

“Ninety percent of the historic structures in our historic district have their lowest floor elevation located below the current 100-year flood elevation,” said St. Marys Mayor William DeLoughy. “This study will hopefully provide the city-and other historic coastal cities-with guidance in how best to accommodate sea level rise for historic districts and structures.”

The budget for the St. Marys project is just under $160,000.

Established in 1787, St. Marys is home to valuable historical assets that city officials are keen to protect. The St. Marys Earthkeepers organized a public seminar earlier this year on the issues that brought in key city officials and more than 120 residents from the community.

As part of the project, Georgia Sea Grant, the Institute of Government and the Marine Extension Service will conduct research and collect information to analyze the costs and benefits for a range of actions designed to reduce vulnerability to negative impacts. This partnership is expanding upon a similar project on Tybee Island that received the “Four for the Future Award,” a newly established award co-sponsored by Georgia Trend Magazine and UGA’s Office of the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach.

“Much of Georgia’s shoreline lies just a few feet above sea level,” said Jason Evans, environmental sustainability analyst with the Institute of Government. “When you combine this with the substantial growth expected in coastal Georgia over the next few decades, you have increasing numbers of people, property, infrastructure and natural systems along the Southeast Atlantic coast likely becoming increasingly vulnerable.”

The project also will address similar vulnerabilities in Hyde County, N.C. In both locations, the Georgia team will provide expertise in comparing the costs and benefits of adaptation actions, while North Carolina Sea Grant will take the lead in developing, through a series of public workshops, detailed assessments of communities’ current and future vulnerabilities. The end result will be resilience and adaptation plans tailored to the needs of each community.

The team intends to link proposed adaptation actions with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Community Rating System program, potentially reducing flood insurance rates for local residents as the plans are implemented.

Lessons learned in these communities will be shared with other communities in the Southeast and through the National Sea Grant network.