Tag Archives: FEMA

Climate Change-How Would We Plan Our Historic Subdivisions Differently Today? Indian River Lagoon

Port Sewall development map 1911. (courtesy of Sandra henderson Thurlow.)
Port Sewall development map, 1911. (Courtesy of Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)

I have wanted to share this Port Sewall land development map for a while as it is so interesting to observe.

Port Sewall, established in 1911, was one of our area’s first “planned developments.” It consisted of lands from the Hanson Grant that Captain Henry Sewall acquired through his family line. The infamous Hugh Willoughby later joined him and they formed the Sewall’s Point Land Company, which according to Sandra Henderson Thurlow’s book The History of Sewall’s Point: ” built the Sunrise Inn, dredged for a yacht turning basin, and planned to develop a deepwater port.”

Due to the Great Depression of the 1920s theses dreams evaporated but left this map that became the basis for part of South Sewall’s Point, Stuart,  St Lucie and Old St Lucie Boulevard,  Port Sewall, and Golden Gate.

The body of water in the Port Sewall map is today’s Willoughby Creek. The original name Oyster Creek, was changed. This is fitting as today when I look over the edge of the little bridge on Indian Street, I do not see many oysters, only manatees swimming around in dirty looking water.

Today, I pose what may be an odd question but it is one I think about in light of my Florida League of Cities meetings  and friends that force me to think about climate change and where things are going in the future of South Florida.

This is not “bad,” it is just change. Just 12,000 years ago there were mammoths, mastodons, saber toothed cats, 17 foot tall sloths and broad horned bison walking around looking for watering holes and hoping not to get “bow and arrowed” by a paleo-Indian. Things change. Times change. Slowly. We must adapt.

As a side note, a few years ago my husband Ed and I visited his birth city of Buenos Aries, Argentina. We noticed, just like Ed’s father told us, Argentina’s development was further back from the river. Most of the lands along the water bodies were left for “everyone” along with  wildlife and to promote the area’s fishing. This was prompted by periodic flooding and storms. Just like we have here….

“We,” on the other hand, have completely built out to the edge of the water, right up in fact or over every little creek and rivulet.

It may be a rhetorical question, but if we had it so do all over again, how would we develop our lands to ensure the integrity of the surrounding waters, giant hammocks, upland forests, forks, creeks, wetlands, and shorelines?

As a Sewall’s Point commissioner of seven years, one the “craziest” things I have ever heard was that FEMA would help our town buy out some of the shoreline houses that have experienced repetitive flood losses. Hmmmmm….But we would lose the tax base I thought…..but then if the water is coming up, and the storms seem to be getting stronger, and it is my responsibility to plan for the future of the town….is this really such a crazy thought?

Ft Lauderdale is doing this…..Miami is doing this…..

Most certainly many elements have added to the degradation of the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon. Intense coastal development is right up there.

As we move forward in light of climate change, there may be opportunities to offset that destruction. These changes are not something anyone is ready for or wanting to discuss.

Nonetheless, Mother Nature just may force the conversation. We should start thinking now, what exactly we are going to say to her, because she is coming…


Broward County Planning map: (http://gis.broward.org/maps/webPDFs/SeaLevelRise/PriorityPlanningAreasForSeaLevelRise.pdf)

Miami/South Florida collaborative Planning: (http://bondsforschools.dadeschools.net/Files/Miami-Dade%20County%20Presentation_March182014.pdf)

Sewall’s Point, Tomorrow’s Oceanfront Property?

Aerial of Sewall's Point, C.B. Arbogast Brochure. Photo Clyde Coutant 1946-1949.
Aerial of Sewall’s Point, C.B. Arbogast Brochure. Photo Clyde Coutant 1946-1949.(Photo courtesy of  S.H. Thurlow)

If you have driven through the Town of Sewall’s Point lately you may have noticed houses being raised. Within a short time, a total of twelve homes will have had millions of dollars invested from the US Federal Government as part of a FEMA flood mediation program. Just over  40 percent of Sewall’s Points’ homes are in a flood zone, and many had “repetitive losses,” during hurricanes Jeanne and Francis in 2004.

“FEMA” is a controversial program. Why is the Federal Government giving people in one of the “wealthiest” areas of Martin County money,  so much money, to raise their homes? Well, at the end of the day, it is a business decision for an almost insolvent FEMA. They figure they will save money in the long run by “lifting” homes that historically they have paid so much money “out to.” This is not just happening in Sewall’s Point, it is happening in coastal communities all over the country. In fact the entire state and county flood maps are changing right now: (http://geoweb.martin.fl.us/flood/  or go to http://www.martin.fl.us –then tab Maps/FEMA Flood Maps)

In 2009, Mark Perry, of Florida Oceanographic, shared a paper with me he had written in 1982, the year I graduated from high school: “Coastal Zone Study of Hutchinson Island and Martin County,” which included substantial information on the geological formation of Sewall’s Point. I was struck by his writing:

“Just before the most recent Ice Age, the Wisconsin, which lasted from 100,000 to 11,000 years before present, the sea level was approximately 25-35 feet above the present mean sea level…at that time the sea was  covering most of Martin County except for the Orlando Ridge, Green Ridge, and Atlantic Ridge…” Sewall’s Point is part of that “Atlantic Ridge, so at least its west side was above sea level. Other known areas today that would have been islands in the ancient sea, are parts of Jensen Beach around the Skyline Drive, Jonathan Dickinson Park, and a large area inland adjacent  to the Allapattah Flats.

My mother wrote the book on Sewall’s Point, “The History of a Peninsular Community on the Florida’s Treasure Coast” and I certainly learned, at a young age, that history repeats itself.

Waters rise and fall; civilizations are built and crumble; powerful multibillion dollar corporations become obsolete…

I suppose we can look on the bright side, the good news is that if you live in Sewall’s Point between the Indian River Lagoon and St Lucie Rivers, you may one day be able to deed your great grandchildren ocean front property.