The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers received mostly accolades from residents of Flagler County Feb. 5 after they heard about the Corps’ draft plan to increase shoreline protection.
The Flagler County Hurricane and Storm Damage Reduction Project team hosted a public meeting to present the draft integrated feasibility study and environmental assessment. Many meeting attendees, including city and county officials, complimented team members for a job well done on the study and in presenting the information.
Shoreline erosion currently threatens oceanfront infrastructure in Flagler County, including National Scenic Highway State Road A1A and public and private structures. As the only north-south hurricane evacuation route for communities along the coastline, State Road A1A is essential for public safety during evacuation events.
At the meeting, the team presented their findings and a tentatively selected plan, which provides additional armoring and protection of State Road A1A. The protection includes building a 10-foot seaward extension of the existing dune along 2.6 miles of shoreline between 7th and 28th streets in central Flagler Beach.
There are lots of reasons why the meeting was successful.
Planning Division’s Marty Durkin said good preparation was the key to meeting the audience’s expectations. The meeting was planned so attendees could talk to individual team members both prior to the formal presentation as well as afterwards.
“The informal discussion with the study team members is important because it allows people to get complete answers to their individual questions,” explained Durkin. “People get more out of a real back and forth conversation where they aren't under the pressure of speaking into a microphone with limited time to ask their question or make their point.”
Posters provided information on the project and the Corps’ process, and did a good job telling the story, too, said Candida Bronson, chief, coastal and navigation section, Planning Division. Team members staffed each of the posters particular to their area of expertise.
“Having good visual aids helps the attendees form their questions and helps staff answer the questions. The fact sheet was also very important, containing many of the vital points of the project so the audience had a common base from which to raise their questions,” said Bronson.
Team members were well prepared for audience concerns, too.
“The team brainstormed tough questions that were received in the past, what person would best answer a particular question, and how we should explain answers,” said Bronson. “The presentation and materials were specifically made to address some of the common questions we received throughout the study process, helping to answer questions before the audience asked them.”
Jason Harrah, project manager, agrees that addressing known concerns is important. “You have to gauge your audience. You have to prepare yourself and anticipate what types of questions and concerns could be raised, and be prepared to answer. You also have to be willing to let the public vent their concerns and be a listener,” he said.
Answering questions that are formally asked at the meeting provides transparency; it allows everyone in attendance to hear the Corps’ answer rather than others’ interpretations.
“I believe that having team members respond, when possible, to audience questions and comments was very valuable. It not only gave the audience a forum, but also let them know that we heard them,” said Lori Hadley, Engineering Division.
Having team members available to answer questions or clarify points at the poster boards after the formal presentation was also valuable, she said. “Not everyone wants to talk openly at a microphone. This gave more reserved folks a chance to be heard and get answers as well.”
Hadley said she wasn’t sure that having team members available prior to the presentation added much value. “In some cases, yes, but in others the best answer was ‘that will be better addressed in the presentation.’”
Hadley said the public meeting likely went so well because it’s not a particularly controversial project.
“The fact that Flagler beach needs help is basically agreed upon. The solution may not be, but there is some common ground,” said Hadley. Other district projects, especially those with contested environmental impacts, are much more polarizing and sometimes create a hostile environment, she said. “I think the open, responsive way this meeting was held helped it go well. The same flexible approach might not work so well for a more controversial project.”