City leaders call for money to protect St. Augustine from flooding

Study find sea levels could rise up to 3 feet in 40 years

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – St. Augustine needs more federal and state money soon to protect the nation's oldest city from the looming threat of flooding, city leaders said. 

When Hurricane Matthew swept up the east coast of Florida in October, the storm dumped several feet of water in many of St. Augustine's historic buildings. 

"We weren't really sure what to expect. We'd sandbagged the building pretty well. We just weren't expecting the water to come through the walls, as opposed to the doors," said Christopher Clarke, who works in a St. Augustine office building that was built in the 1700s. 

During Hurricane Matthew, Clarke said, the building got a foot of water inside it. Many of the neighboring buildings got several feet more. 

"We obviously have had nuisance flooding for a very long time and if anything raised everyone's awareness, it was Hurricane Matthew, when we had a 7½-foot storm surge," St. Augustine Mayor Nancy Shaver told News4Jax on Tuesday. 

The water extended from the city's Bayfront all the way to U.S. 1. 

But it's not just hurricanes that have the city worried. Flooding of all kinds is getting worse and officials said they need to take action now. 

Shaver said a recent study found that sea levels around St. Augustine could rise as much as a foot in the next 20 years, and up to 3 feet in 40 years. 

Many historic landmarks, such as the campus of Flagler College, could be threatened. 

"We know the sea levels are rising. We've seen it in many, many places. And to me, it's that simple and straightforward," Shaver said. 

City officials have already said they need to move their wastewater treatment plant from its current location, which would come with a price tag of more than $100 million, more than double St. Augustine's annual budget, according to Shaver. 

"The solution is money," Shaver said. "And a lot of money. What we're doing is we have a very specific plan. We know what our vulnerabilities are."

The city plans to use some of the federal aid from Matthew to cover projects, such as pump stations. But the mayor said much more funding is need to protect the city.