If NOAA predictions are right, sea level here will rise about 8 feet by 2100. At that time, Cape Canaveral will all but cease to exist. But the small town is not backing down. “Humans are a very stubborn bunch,” said Zachary Eichholz, the Cape’s resilience director.
For a small town, Cape Canaveral is ambitious in implementing programs that will help the community sustain itself for as long as possible. Think: David vs. Goliath. The effort is called “Cape Canaveral 2063,” to coincide with the city’s centennial.
The city is on a barrier island, fronted by the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian River Lagoon on the backside of the island. Several inexpensive steps are already being taken to bolster those shores.
On the beach volunteers have planted thousands of sea oats, which protect the dunes from erosion. They held up well during two hurricanes in 2022. Along the lagoon, property owners are being offered free mangrove trees to plant at the waterline, protecting against rising lagoon waters.
“We want to be the example, the change agent,” said Eichholz. He said the city’s pace has picked up in the last two years.
On a relatively low budget — under $2 million for the entire resiliency program so far — the city has begun transitioning to solar power on city buildings, and streetlights. The city car fleet is slowly changing over to electric vehicles. They plan to be total EV by 2035. He said it makes budget sense as nationally the return on investment in resiliency work is rated as high as six-to-one.
Being on the coast, hurricanes and strong gales are a way of life. Power outages can occur frequently. Eichholz said the investment in solar, with a diesel backup, enables the city to retain power while off the grid.
Stormwater flooding in low-lying areas is a frequent occurrence. The city is redesigning streets in flood-prone areas to redirect runoff into what they refer to as “rain gardens” along the streets. The gardens allow the water to soak into the porous Florida soil more rapidly. There are also stormwater chambers installed under city hall. Residents are being encouraged to install free rain barrels to catch runoff from their roofs. All of these efforts serve to reduce the runoff into a storm sewer system, which often was overwhelmed during storms.
The city has mounted lightning arrestors around a number of city buildings, including a very exposed wastewater treatment plant. Since they’ve been installed not a single lightning strike has been recorded. All exterior lighting at the plant is now solar. The plant has a 2.5 million-gallon holding tank. In the plant’s two stormwater ponds, the city has installed Beemats, which are floating mats with aquatic vegetation to filter out nutrients in the system. Other aspects of the treatment plant are being upgraded with sustainable features to avoid overflows during storm events.
Low-impact development measures are used at Canaveral City Park. There are hundreds of pollinator-friendly trees, shrubs and plants to absorb rainfall. The parking lot is permeable to allow runoff into the soil. A system of 4,000 linear chambers that can hold over 900,000 gallons of runoff are installed under the park’s two largest fields. The community center at the park is equipped with solar panels that are expected to save the city $242,500 in electric bills over their lifetime, estimated at 25 years.
Much of this effort was started during the pandemic. “We saw the need to prepare for any emergency,” said Eichholz. The resiliency division was officially designated as part of the city’s Community and Economic Department in 2022. There is a small staff headed by Eichholz, plus interns from area colleges.
Along with the resiliency measures, the city has undertaken outreach to encourage the residents to get involved. Free plant a tree, free plant a mangrove and the free rain barrels all are done with citizen participation. “All of this adds up,” said Eichholz. “It has long-term ramifications for the betterment of the community.”