How Escambia Can Pay for Flood Projects
Following the money to find easy flood fixes.
One misplaced priority: All these roads won’t matter if they’re underwater
Just $1 million of Escambia’s $30 million public works budget will go to flood prevention this year — while road maintenance gets nearly $10 million.
It’s easy to fund what you see every day and forget the drainpipes under your feet. But pipes clogged from years of neglect won’t save anyone’s home in a sudden downpour.
If money talks, the county’s shouts a clear message: Flood prevention is not a priority.
2014 flooding offered a catastrophic wake-up call — causing $182 million in infrastructure and property damage and spurring a $417 million countywide flood agenda — but the urgency faded quickly in county budgets.
Since then, the county has only raised $40 million and finished less than 5% of the planned projects.
The same revenue streams that let county officials pour millions into roads could offer a similar boost to flood prevention. And yet…
They’ve let a massive backlog of stormwater maintenance pile up, underfunding and understaffing the team responsible for catching up.
19 of 179 staff in Public Works are in the flood division vs. nearly 100 in road maintenance.
Only 23% of revenues from a local sales tax intended to fund public infrastructure go to flood protection.
Snapshot: “There was nothing we could do…”
Hurricane Sally hammered Escambia County with over $300 million in property damage, forcing hundreds of residents out of their homes.
One family pleaded for the county’s help after a stormwater pond overflowed, flooding their home with 2 feet of water:
“This was supposed to be the house our 8-year old daughter grows up in, and we retire in,” the family said in an email to the county, according to Pensacola News Journal.
“There was nothing we could do… We had to leave in the middle of the night in hurricane-force winds and flooding roads... We need help!"
That’s just a taste of over 1,500 emails the county got in Sally’s wake. Months later, many residents were still waiting on repairs, unable to move back home.
The short-term property repairs that get funded…
Escambia got one of the biggest payouts of the $270 million in federal aid sent to Florida in response to Hurricane Sally — but it’s almost all earmarked for property damage repair.
If the county had fought for that sort of money before disaster struck, people wouldn’t need help rebuilding their homes in the first place.
Instead, Escambia is failing to build new drainage infrastructure, let alone maintain what it already has.
That locks Escambia into a cycle of repeatedly fixing damage from the last flood, instead of protecting neighborhoods against the next one.
…And the low-hanging flood fixes that don’t
The Lake Charlene subdivision has flooded for years. After Hurricane Sally, residents finally got HOA and county approval to end the cycle, using a $2 million FEMA grant.
The plan will make it easier for officials to lower the level of the lake, taking hundreds of homes out of harm’s way — a dent in the county’s total backlog, but a gamechanger for this neighborhood.
There are hundreds more unfunded drainage projects across every district in the county, many as feasible and affordable as Lake Charlene’s.
Take Mariners Village, where a proposed $3.4 million project from the 2015 agenda would restore the nearby stream and wetland and construct a stormwater pond.
🔍 See the projects left for each district and what funding them could do for Escambia.
How to make home buyouts work
Many Escambia homes were built before we knew where it would flood, or where outdated FEMA maps said it shouldn’t flood and got it wrong.
“Buyouts” let owners sell their homes to the government, preventing repeated repairs and the need to find a buyer for a flood-prone home.
Buyouts today are slow, inflexible and reactive.
Most take over 5 years to get funded.
To qualify for federal money, a house must appear in a floodplain as defined by FEMA’s bad maps, excluding hundreds of thousands of homes we now know are at risk.
Almost all federal funding comes after the flood, forcing homeowners to live through a disaster before they can get help.
County officials could fund buyouts directly, moving faster and helping homeowners relocate before the next flood, not after.
What Florida Residents Want
Floridians want better flood protection, according to a poll conducted by Flood Defenders.
52% expressed concerns about flooding
68% want their local city and county government to act
55% want comprehensive policy or legislation
45%, a plurality, said flooding is a problem and not enough action is being taken
We are Flood Defenders
A non-profit amplifying the power of our members' voices to demand and receive better flood protection