A study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) nears completion as various governments confront coastal storm and flood vulnerability in the Florida Keys.

With recommendations for shoreline stabilization along U.S. 1, voluntary home raising and  structure floodproofing, fortifying the Keys from future storms and flooding is estimated to cost $2.6 billion. 

Monroe County Board of County Commissioners recently gave the go-ahead to sign a letter of support to accept the $3 million, federally-funded feasibility study, which started in 2018. A final version of the study was presented to government officials from the county, and more recently, Islamorada village council members. Rachel Haug, senior planner for the USACE, joined the village council’s April 8 meeting via Zoom to outline recent notable changes, costs and a timeline for the project. 

One of the bigger changes surrounds mandatory structure acquisition. While included in earlier versions, Haug said the measure isn’t in the final plan.

“It was a sticking point for folks,” she said. 

Nearly 4,700 homes in the Keys are recommended for elevation, while a little over 1,000 commercial structures and 53 critical infrastructure buildings were identified for floodproofing. 

In Marathon, the USACE suggests that 562 homes should be elevated, while 225 commercial structures should be floodproofed. Fourteen critical infrastructure projects should be floodproofed, as well. The total cost for these projects is estimated to be $367,828,303. Raising the homes makes up the bulk of that price tag at $275,861,133, while floodproofing commercial structures will cost $85,629,396, and the infrastructure projects add up to $6,337,774.

In total, 208 Islamorada homes are recommended for raising and 90 structures identified for floodproofing. Elevating homes in the village is estimated at $102 million, while floodproofing is expected to cost around $30 million. Critical infrastructure projects are around $4 million. 

Countywide, elevating Keys homes is expected to cost more than $2 billion, with floodproofing projects estimated at more than $400 million. 

The plan identifies 2,028 Key West homes in need of elevation, 400 structures for floodproofing and seven critical infrastructure floodproofing projects. Structure elevation costs are around $900 million, while floodproofing of structures is estimated at $5.5 million. Critical infrastructure floodproofing is around $2.7 million for the Key West projects.

Haug said the federal government is expected to fund 65% of project costs, and that equates to $1.7 billion. The remaining $893 million will need to be funded by the state, county, local municipalities and other non-federal sources. 

With congressional authorization of the project anticipated within the Water Resources Development Act of 2022, Haug said the plan is to garner funding to start pre-construction and engineering design for U.S. 1 shoreline revetment. 

By 2025, a first construction contract would be awarded for building. Projects identified within the study will be phased through 10 years, with completion expected in 2035. 

“Obviously for a project this big, we will need to phase that construction,” Haug said. “We’re not just going to elevate thousands of homes and flood-proof in a year.”

“We discussed this Army Corps report at a recent council meeting,” said Marathon council member John Bartus. “We are very encouraged. Previously, they had identified approximately 300 homes in Marathon that would have to be purchased and destroyed through eminent domain. We are grateful to see that the new version of the Army Corps plan got rid of the eminent domain features. We’re glad to see the Feds identifying a funding source for 65 percent of the cost, and the Florida legislature is trying to pass resiliency legislation of their own that would set aside $100 million a year for local governments. So they are taking a very proactive stand on this. This is a very good development.”

Jim McCarthy is one of the many Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 4-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, hockey, mixed martial arts and golf. He also enjoys time with family and his new baby boy, Lucas, who arrived Oct. 4, 2022.