Friday, August 10, 2012

Resiliency in Lake Worth

If you could distill one message from Commissioner Mulvehill's presentation Tuesday night on her presentation and attendance at the ICLEI conference - emphasis on if you could - it would likely be that if you are in charge of building new public infrastructure, it better be up to the task to handle the every-increasing risks presented by natural disasters.  It is cheaper to spend money ahead of time in order that a public project is done correctly and in a state-of-the-art manner - including being up to current building code standards.

The beach and casino redevelopment project is an example of a significant amount of public money being spent on public property.  It is also adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean which has been known to spawn strong hurricanes that can do massive damage to buildings built along the coast.  That is why the state of Florida has something called a Coastal Construction Control Line.  When you build something seaward of that line, you must adhere to stricter building code standards - if it is considered new construction or, in the building code's lingo, substantial improvement - meaning more than 50 percent of the value of an existing building is being replaced.

The city tried to dance around this issue and say that the casino building was not considered a substantial improvement so that it could claim it was a renovation and make the political claim that it was saving the building.  So besides deciding to leave the building essentially where it was and ignore other opportunities for less risky locations to be found on the same property, it also decided not to harden the structural essence of the building - putting the building on pilings so that if the land underneath it washes away, that public investment would still be there or at least have less damage than otherwise.

Remember the Inspector General's report on the casino building?  It found that 96% of the building represented a substantial improvement - or new construction.  The report also recommended that research be performed to determine what other code issues may come into play given this building code classification - something that the city attempted to get around.  Going back to the building code requirements, if the building that is being built does not include the required pilings, it must be protected by a seawall that is up to the task.  Here is the code language:

 FBC 3109.4:

a.      The top must be at or above the still water level, including setup, for the design storm plus the breaking wave calculated at its highest achievable level based on the maximum eroded beach profile and highest surge level combination, and must be high enough to preclude run-up overtopping.

b.      The armoring must be stable under the design storm including maximum localized scour, with adequate penetration and toe protection to avoid settlement, toe failure or loss of material from beneath or behind the armoring.

c.       The armoring must have sufficient continuity or return walls to prevent flanking under the design storm from impacting the proposed construction.

d.      The armoring must withstand the static and hydrodynamic forces of the design storm.

The city contracted for a study of the seawall.  It didn't address any of these items - whether or not the existing seawall met any of the above requirements.  It chiefly deals with aesthetic issues and saltwater damage and not much more.

We are now aware that the pool itself is settling or was damaged in some manner.  After 30 years of discussion, we are finally doing something to improve the beach - but could it all just be a waste of money should we have a big storm.

Resiliency seems to be a reason to go to international conferences but it is something different if you actually have to apply the principle locally.  Eh hem....

Can we have an adequate study of the seawall to determine if it is sufficient to protect our new investment in our beachfront property?  It is my understanding that doing the superficial improvements recommended in the "study" have already been submitted for building permit approval. Are the improvements that are being done going to have to be re-done if the seawall is found inadequate for the protection of the casino building?  What sort of cost is involved in a more exhaustive study and what are the cost and time implications for the actual work to upgrade the seawall should the new study recommend that?  There are some people that think that the building shouldn't get a certificate of occupancy before the seawall is addressed.

Resiliency...fine to talk about in Germany but impossible to practice in our own hometown.