A county employee and a U.S. Flood Control staff member install the temporary, 24-inch water-filled control barriers.

While a Key Largo community plagued by tidal flooding awaits a long-term solution, a short-term plan was implemented on Oct. 14 as barriers went up to alleviate saltwater inundating roads inside the Stillwright Point community. 

Temporary water-filled barriers were installed along North Blackwater Lane and Sexton Way in Stillwright Point by county workers and the vendor, U.S. Flood Control. The 24-inch-high barriers were placed alongside the road to keep the water at bay. 

County workers spent the day putting the orange barriers in place as residents, in shirts with graphics of their flooded roads, watched closely. Resident Jan Darden noted that tidal flooding on the roads on Oct. 14 was at its lowest in 34 days. 

A day before the barriers were installed, a group of homeowners met virtually with U.S. Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell to discuss concerns and a need for action. Mucarsel-Powell, member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told residents she will be sending a letter of concern to local elected officials to lay out the situation in Stillwright Point to explain that there are neighborhood leaders ready to find solutions, and offer support and advocacy to federal agencies on their behalf.  

Just over 90 days passed before Stillwright Point residents last year were able to stand in the middle of roads and streets without water touching their feet in late November 2019. It all stemmed from a king tide that left roads and streets inundated months prior.

At times, water on roads exceeded 1 to 2 feet, causing problems for elderly and handicapped residents. Fast forward to Sept. 19, 2020, and tidal flooding returned inside the community at MM 105, bayside.

Mucarsel-Powell said it’s no secret that the district is on the front lines of sea level rise and climate change. Persistent flooding, more frequent and stronger storms, and warmer waters are affecting communities, the economy and way of life.

“I tell people across the nation about Stillwright Point because it illustrates how climate change isn’t just an idea to debate in Congress, it is a very real problem that is affecting our community every single day,” she said. 

A county commission meeting held in August saw input on an application for $21 million in grant funds through the Community Development Block Grant program for general infrastructure to elevate and improve drainage within the Stillwright Point subdivision, which comprises some 185 homes. The project would include reconstructing and elevating 1.5 miles of road by up to 1.75 feet or higher in some areas, installing a stormwater collection system, pump station, wet wells, pumps, piping, electrical controls, emergency generator and an injector well. An application has been submitted.

Mucarsel-Powell said she’s inquiring on Stillwright Point’s behalf on the status of the grant application from the county. She received a response from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) stating that it approved the state’s mitigation action plan and is working closely on the statutorily required certification of its financial policies and procurement processes. That certification must be in place before issuance of the HUD grant agreement. 

“The king tide flooding was up to 18 inches deep on our streets and lingered for 94 days last year,” said Stillwright resident Emilie Caldwell Stewart. “(Restaurant) food deliveries, Instacart and Uber refuse to drive through the salt water. If you do not own a truck or SUV you cannot go to doctor’s appointments. We are physically cut off from the rest of the world and blocked from living normally.”

Jeanine Welsh, who lives on North Drive, said she’s had issues leaving home in her sedan to get groceries. She’s lived in Stillwright with her husband for eight years. It’s only become worse, she acknowledged.  

“It’s a lovely neighborhood and we would like to stay here,” she said. “But if this keeps up, we’ll be looking for a second home to get away from the flood season. It’s a lot to deal with.”

A vehicle turns onto Sexton Way inside Stillwright Point, as temporary barriers are put in place to alleviate tidal flooding issues.
Temporary water-filled control barriers are installed on Oct. 14 alongside North Blackwater Lane in Key Largo. The county is testing the barrier to help control some of the impacts from king tide road flooding. JIM McCARTHY/Keys Weekly

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