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Keeping Florida Bay At Bay: Key Largo Neighborhood Gets Temporary Flood Barriers

workers install a flood barrier along a street in Key Largo's stillwright point neighborhood
Courtesy Emilie Stewart
On Wednesday, Monroe County installed a temporary flood barrier between the mangrove shoreline of Florida Bay and a main street in Key Largo's Stillwright Point neighborhood.

The Key Largo neighborhood that was flooded for more than three months last year — and is flooding again now — got some help Wednesday when Monroe County installed temporary flood barriers.

A year ago, the Stillwright Point neighborhood of Key Largo became a national example of sea level rise in action. The roads there were inundated with floodwaters from Florida Bay for 94 days.

"Unless you own a truck or an SUV, it means you have to buy boots and walk through the saltwater up towards U.S. 1 and have someone pick you up. It means there is no normal as most people would know it," said Emilie Stewart, who has lived in Stillwright Point since 1995.

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For some people it is a serious inconvenience and hazard to the undercarriage of their cars. For others, like a 96-year-old woman who lives there, it's more serious.

A visiting nurse who looks after that woman had to hike half a mile from the highway to the woman's house every day last year, Stewart said.

And that meant the nurse couldn't bring her patient to doctor's appointments.

"So for a period of three months last year, she skipped doctor's appointments," Stewart said.

Stewart was glad to see the county installing temporary flood barriers that will block the bay water from the main route to U.S. 1.

The tubes made of industrial-grade flexible PVC are laid along the mangroves from the Florida Bay shoreline where they edge up to the side of the road. Then the tubes are filled with water to form a barrier.

The county first tried the flood barriers in Twin Lakes, another Key Largo neighborhood that has experienced increased flooding during King Tides in recent years and is the subject of a pilot project to elevate roads.

The barriers cost $53,000 for Twin Lakes and $45,000 for Stillwright Point. The county plans to see how they are working before installing any more, according to spokeswoman Kristen Livengood.

According to the company that supplied the barriers, they can be repaired with an awning or bicycle tire repair kit and even — temporarily, in an emergency — with duct tape.

Stewart says the Stillwright Point neighborhood has already flooded for more than 20 days this year. And that residents want a quicker fix than the county's long-term plan that involves expensive, complicated measures like injection wells.

"We would like to see our roads raised and not go for a 45-year, $21 million solution. Because it's possible the whole Keys could be underwater in 45 years. Or it could be possible that nothing happens in 45 years. We don't know," she said.

Monroe County is evaluating all of its roads in a study that should be done next year. The estimated cost for protecting vulnerable roads is $1.8 billion.