September 29, 2014 | Spotlight

Institute's Tybee Island Sea Level Adaptation Work Wins National Award

Writer: Roger Nielsen

An Institute of Government collaboration to help the City of Tybee Island prepare for rising sea levels recently was recognized for excellence with National Sea Grant's highest extension honor, the Superior Outreach Programming Award.

The award recognizes superior leadership, teamwork and accomplishment by Sea Grant extension personnel engaged in an exceptional outreach program. It was presented to Georgia Sea Grant, which partnered with the Institute, UGA Marine Extension, the College of Environment and Design (CED), and others to develop the Tybee Island Sea Level Rise Adaptation Plan.

The adaptation plan, scheduled for completion early next year, will outline preventative actions the City of Tybee Island can implement over a 50-year period.

Faculty and staff from the Institute joined experts from Georgia Sea Grant and CED to prepare the adaptation plan in consultation with Tybee municipal leaders and residents of the barrier island on Georgia's coast near Savannah. Action steps include retrofitting the city's stormwater sewer system to reduce flooding during high tides, elevating the city well pumps, raising U.S. Highway 80 causeway to minimize flooding risk, protecting the shore through beach renourishment, and installing a seawall along the low-lying southwestern corner of the island.

Five other National Sea Grant programs were nominated for the Superior Outreach Programming Award, which was presented Sept. 11 during the annual Sea Grant Week national conference in Clearwater, Florida.

"Throughout the development of the Sea Level Rise Adaptation Plan, stakeholders have been engaged through town hall meetings, Web postings and presentations at city council meetings, and the response has been both enthusiastic and encouraging," Tybee Island Mayor Jason Buelterman said in his letter of recommendation for the award. "As residents of a barrier island on the front lines of sea level rise, we have all become more attuned to the reality of what is happening and the need to act quickly to protect our community for future generations."

The Tybee Island project was funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Sea Grant Program's Coastal Communities Climate Adaptation Initiative grant, which helps fund adaptation planning in coastal communities. The Tybee collaboration previously won the Sea Grant South Atlantic Region's Outstanding Achievement Award and the "Four for the Future" Award from Georgia Trend magazine and the UGA Vice President for Public Service and Outreach.

The project is already serving as a model for other coastal communities in the Southeast, including St. Marys, Georgia, Hyde County, North Carolina, and Monroe County, Florida.

The Institute helped develop the plan with a team of faculty and staff that included Jason Evans, environmental sustainability specialist; Rob McDowell, environmental planning; Leigh Elkins, natural resources planning; Mathew Hauer, applied demography; Shana Jones, planning and environmental services; Jimmy Nolan, information technology outreach; and Scott Pippin, environmental and natural resource planning.

Communities interested in learning more about developing an adaptation plan or earning credits under the Community Rating System can contact Shana Jones at shanaj@uga.edu or 706.542.3641.