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Army Corps Embarks On Study Of How To Protect Low-Lying Keys

Stephanie Russo
Monroe County
Tidal flooding on sunny days is already affecting some roads in the Keys, like this one on Key Largo, shown in 2015.

Flooding is a fact of life in the low-lying Florida Keys. And it's projected to get worse. According to Monroe County, this is the third most vulnerable county in the country to tidal flooding.

If seas rise two feet by 2060 — the high end of current projections — almost a third of the population could be displaced.

The county is already starting to work on roads that flood frequently during king tides, with a pilot project set to raise one mile of roadways in Key Largo and Big Pine Key. The estimated cost is $3.5 million.

A new study by the Army Corps is looking at ways to limit the damage throughout the Keys, both from storms and sea level rise.

"We want to look at what are the areas right now that are flooding when storms come along, where damages are occurring, and see what we can do to prevent that storm damage from occurring in the future," said Susan Conner, chief of planning and policy for the Army Corps' Norfolk District.

Conner was recently in the Keys to gather public input as the Corps starts the 3-year, $3 million study. The end result is supposed to be a construction project. But Conner says it won't result in major structures like those seen in other low-lying areas like New Orleans.

"We recognize that the Keys is a very unique area. There's a lot of environmental considerations that we don't want to negatively impact," she said. "We can't come build a wall around the Keys."

In the Keys, flood protection could mean temporary flood walls as well as beefing up natural protection like mangrove shorelines, she said.

Other strategies for coping with more frequent flooding include raising or moving homes.

The public has until Jan. 8 to offer information or comments on the initial part of the study. They can be sent to Kimberly Koelsch at Kimberly.C.Koelsch@usace.army.mil or mailed to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Norfolk District, ATTN Kimberly C. Koelsch, Planning and Policy Branch, 803 Front St., Norfolk VA, 23510.

Nancy Klingener covers the Florida Keys for WLRN. Since moving to South Florida in 1989, she has worked for the Miami Herald, Solares Hill newspaper and the Monroe County Public Library.