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Where would flooding occur in Washington County years from now if another powerful storm hits and what parts are residents concerned with?

Those questions hung in the air at the Ag Center on March 26 as the County conducted its first flood vulnerability assessment public outreach meeting.

The County is working on a comprehensive survey regarding inland flooding. Topographic and flood-scenario related data will be prepared, including predictions for future storm surges. Critical assets will be mapped, followed by modeling rainfall and river flooding onto the landscape–including how far and deep the water would go in certain conditions.

Along with analysis, further steps in the assessment will include steering committee meetings this year and a final report anticipated to be ready in 2025. 

Potential damage to various economic sectors will also be calculated such as transportation; wastewater treatment facilities; community and emergency facilities; and natural, cultural and historical resources. The public is welcome to suggest other sites not already mentioned. 

“There’s potentially an issue in very extreme scenarios of sea level rise that there could be some storm surge and sea level rise that happens at the very southern part of the county,” said Whitney Gray with Michael Baker International, an engineering consulting firm working with the County on the assessment.

Topographic maps with potential flood projections were provided at the public meeting. Areas displayed included Holmes Valley and Five Points. People were welcome to mark the maps with their own insights and suggestions. 

“We’re especially interested in some of the historic events and changes that have happened,” Gray said. “These are historic aerials of the same area in the Sand Hills Lake area in the southern part of the county and you can see across time how water level came. It’s up, it’s down. It varies but these were all in times when there was no development there.”

Hurricane Michael increased water levels and continued to do so.

“Part of what we’ll study along in the vulnerability assessment is trying to understand how this is happening and where else it could potentially happen,” Gray said. 

Projections are studying the possible effects of so-called 100-year and 500-year storms, which are supposed to be devastating and have small chances of happening.

“We’ll be able to say in the category of libraries or cultural assets you expect to have this many buildings impacted, this percentage of the critical assets in that category impacted,” Gray said. “It can even assign a dollar value to those damages.”

A report will be released later on spelling out all the data once it’s discovered. The study is restricted to the unincorporated County areas and hasn’t examined much of individual municipalities, such as property owned and maintained by the City of Chipley or private property.