Investigates: Landing redevelopment plan ‘going to be changed’, says new chief resiliency officer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Action News Jax investigates gets answers about the Landing redevelopment plan on the Northbank that’s been flooded with criticism beyond the much-maligned “Lerp” sculpture.

Questions have been raised about rising sea levels impacting the flood resilience of the proposed main design of the site, to be called One Park Jax.

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“I’m working with the Downtown Investment Authority and the public works team on that design,” said Anne Coglianese, who was introduced Thursday as the City of Jacksonville’s first chief resiliency officer.

In a previous Action News Jax investigation, Ben Becker reported that the proposed Landing redevelopment plan would include, among other things, a “living shoreline.”

According to the designer Perkins & Will, the living shoreline has “upland grasses” and “aquatic plants” that the designer claims can withstand the “full range of tidal currents and wave impacts” with a “submerged beach” and “terraced gabion walls,” which are wire containers filled with material to stabilize the shoreline, designed to protect the $29 million project.

“Do you think living shorelines are a good idea?” Becker asked Coglianese. “I think they are a great idea,” she responded.

This “Option A” would entail ripping out hundreds of feet of brand-new docks and bulkhead that currently protect the shoreline to create what appears to be a small inlet, but Coglianese says a bulkhead should be a big part of the project even though it’s not in the current design.

“Well the design is not final,” says Coglianese. “That’s what they are putting out there,” said Becker. “That’s what’s being splashed out there, Option A by DIA,” pressed Becker. “It’s going to be changed,” says Coglianese.

Erik Olsen, who did not submit any development bids for this project, is well-versed in the area, having completed a resiliency study for the Shipyards on the Southbank, paid for by Shad Khan’s Iguana investments. In that report, a projected tide chart shows water elevation exceeding the normal tide range from July to November, which just happens to be hurricane season.

“You are literally inviting the dynamics of the river during storm events, now and in the future, into your site,” said Olsen.

“There are good sites and bad sites for living shorelines, and this is not the right site for a living shoreline,” Olsen added. “You are talking about water elevations getting up to 3-4 feet without taking into effect sea level rise.”

The base elevation for this project is only 5 feet.

In 2016, Action News Jax first reported how Hurricane Matthew damaged the old Northbank docks, and how a year later, Irma packed another punch.

The new docks were installed this year as a replacement, as part of a nearly $4 million dollar FEMA grant. It’s unclear if the money would have to be paid back.

Downtown Investment Authority CEO Lori Boyer judged the design submissions, but refused Becker’s request for a formal interview, saying he had been unfair to her in a previous story; although she wouldn’t say which one.

Becker showed up at a public event and pressed Boyer for answers.

“What about the idea this could lead to flooding down there by ripping out those docks?,” Becker asked Boyer as she hurriedly walked to her car. “I have no comment. I suggest you look at the design when the design is actually completed and working through that process,” said Boyer.

“I can say confidently the final design will have all those resilience concerns analyzed and addressed,” said Coglianese of the bulkhead concerns.

Becker previously reached out to Perkins & Will, and a spokesperson responded with a statement from the design team.

“We’re excited about the potential for the One Park Jax site to serve as an example for how a softened shoreline can function within the full range of tidal and storm conditions experienced on the Jacksonville waterfront. Jacksonville and other coastal cities around the U.S. have historically relied on conventional hard-edge techniques for protecting their shorelines: sheet pile walls, concrete, and stone rip rap have been the only tools for decades. We’ve approached the project by asking how we can broaden the tool set: what combination of hardened edge and naturally resilient materials, including planted materials, can be used to start to break this paradigm.

“We’ve started this process by reviewing decades of river flow and storm data, and building high resolution computer models of the St. Johns River, focusing on the downtown bend where the site is located. The models help the design team understand where the velocities are highest, what stresses they create on the water’s edge, and how those conditions change under normal conditions, under storm events, and during storms combined with the evolving effects of climate change.

“The models give us design parameters that enable us to pick the right mix of materials, hard and soft, to create an edge that is protected against the most extreme storm, but also provides ecological function for the everyday experience of the site. The results are exciting — while we still need to include hardened edge materials, we see opportunities to add natural materials that include deep rooted, resilient shoreline plants. These natural elements aren’t fragile — they add toughness and resilience to the design by reinforcing and stabilizing the hard stone, concrete and steel elements of the shoreline edge. When storms aren’t happening, a more natural edge provides ecological function and a better shoreline experience for the users of the park.”

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There is another design from Perkins & Will called “Option B” where the dock and bulkhead remains in place.

The designer says a final design could take a year to complete.

A final construction budget could go before the city council next year.