Georgia Impact

Tybee government begins planning for rising seas

Tybee Island, Ga. – Tybee Island city councilmembers and officials, with assistance from environmental policy experts at the University of Georgia, Georgia Sea Grant and others, will take the first step to prepare for the consequences of continued sea level rise during public meetings Aug. 6-7.

The meetings are the first of a series of technical workshops that will be held with the City of Tybee Island and are part of a two-year sea level adaptation-planning project. UGA and Georgia Sea Grant will help municipal officials identify community assets that are vulnerable to flooding, storm surge, beach erosion and other concerns related to rising seas. They will then develop strategies in anticipation of the threats.

The project is a joint effort between the city government, the UGA Carl Vinson Institute of Government, Georgia Sea Grant, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and UGA Marine Extension Service, with funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“Tybee’s leaders and residents have an excellent opportunity to understand how their island might be affected by rising waters and higher tides in the future,” said Jason Evans, an environmental sustainability analyst in the Vinson Institute’s environmental policy program. “The project will provide them with tools to make better-informed decisions and investments. We hope that the project will serve as a model for other coastal communities.”

The Tybee city council will meet with Evans and other project researchers Aug. 6 at 3 p.m. at Tybee Island City Hall to decide which island assets and infrastructure to include in the study. The public will be able to provide input during a comment period.

Sea levels at Tybee Island have been on the rise for decades. NOAA has been recording sea levels at nearby Fort Pulaski since 1935 and has documented a rise of approximately 10-11 inches since that time. Oceanographers expect the area to experience at least an additional six inches of sea level rise in the next 50 years.

Higher sea levels translate into greater encroachment along the coast. Assets potentially at risk include the Highway 80 causeway, water utility infrastructure, downtown business district and beachfront. Causeway flooding now happens regularly during extreme high tides. The city has adapted to these spring tide flooding events by retrofitting storm sewers in some neighborhoods.

“It is the responsibility of elected officials to plan for the long-term future of the community they represent and, in doing so, do whatever they can to help future elected officials make intelligent, well-informed choices,” said Tybee Mayor Jason Buelterman. “This study gives us an opportunity to do just that.”

City officials involved in infrastructure and planning will meet with project researchers at city hall Aug. 7 at 9:30 a.m. to discuss the technical aspects of the project and share information about the city’s facilities.

After the Tybee city council decides which projections and community assets to include in the study, researchers will use computer-based models to estimate what may happen to the chosen assets depending on sea level rise. They will use a cost-benefit analysis tool called the Coastal Adaptation to Sea Level Rise Tool, or COAST, to estimate dollar value for potential losses and possible remedies. These might include raising roads, building dunes or moving facilities. The project will allow Tybee Island leaders to compare the advantages of different possible actions when making decisions for the future.

Georgia Sea Grant
Georgia Sea Grant is part of a national program within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that engages research and outreach expertise from colleges, universities and research institutes throughout Georgia in support of programs that promote the economic, cultural and environmental health of Georgia’s coast and local communities. Georgia Sea Grant is housed at UGA, a land- and sea-grant institution. For more information, see

UGA Carl Vinson Institute of Government
The Carl Vinson Institute of Government is a public service and outreach unit of UGA that helps build more effective governments through assistance and training for state and local government officials. For more information, see

City of Tybee Island
The City of Tybee Island, Ga., is on the outermost barrier island of the Savannah area coast. With a wild bird sanctuary, over three miles of ocean beaches, salt marshes on the Back River and eight miles of bike routes, outdoor recreation activities abound for visitors to this bicycle friendly community. As a key defense point to the important Savannah port, Tybee’s Fort Screven, Tybee Fort Theater, Fort Pulaski and the Tybee Island and Cockspur Lighthouses combine with the unique architectures of the island’s raised cottages to form a rich backdrop for history buffs. The Marine Science Center cooperates with Georgia’s DNR to protect threatened sea turtle species by searching for nests, protecting their eggs, and making sure hatchlings make it to sea. For more about the City of Tybee Island, see