City plans to return South Shores area to natural floodplain

FEMA gives Jacksonville $3.4M grant to buy 17 homes, tear them down

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - As part of a plan to reduce flooding from storms in Jacksonville, the city is buying up homes and property in an area that is prone to flooding: the South Shores neighborhood right off the river near the Southbank.

The area flooded heavily during Hurricane Irma, and some families even used boats to get to safety.

It took months of expensive cleanup to get the area back to normal, and the city doesn't want that hassle again.

The city just received a $3.4 million grant from FEMA to buy up 17homes and tear them down, returning the area to what it once was: a floodplain with no houses or development.

The hope is that nature will help fight future flooding.

“There are some projects that are currently ongoing with regards to returning areas that should have never been built in -- returning them to natural floodplains. That's what they were to begin with,” said Sam Mousa, chief administrative officer for the city. “Unfortunately, many, many, many years ago, homes and other dwellings were built in these floodplains, and guess what? They flood. So the challenge there is to return these areas to natural floodplains.”

Some homeowners are still in the process of negotiating  with the city for the buyout.

Ray Touchton said he's somewhat skeptical of the true intentions of the city because development is exploding with new houses and businesses just outside of the South Shores neighborhood.

“If they give the right amount of money, I think it's what they should do with it,” Touchton said. “As long as they stick with their promise of not developing it later on. I have a sneaking suspicion that down the road, they’re probably going to end up doing that.”

Many of the 17 homes that the city is buying are already vacant, and those who do not want to sell will be able to stay, but the neighborhood is going to take on quite a different look as the city returns it to its natural state.

A new storm resiliency committee will begin discussing programs like the one for South Shores and a new drainage plan for developers and will make suggestions on how the city can harden to better withstand storms.

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