ST. PETE BEACH, Fla. — Tidal flooding has regularly been filling the streets of St. Pete Beach this year with sea water and it’s becoming a growing problem for some neighborhoods on the low-lying island.

  • Flooding in St. Pete Beach
  • Public Works identifying various ideas to focusing on storm water flooding
  • City Commissioners unanimously passed an $869,000 improvement project

"Probably within the last 6 months to a year, we've had unusually high flooding,” said resident Robert Pandis. “It's happening maybe 2-to-3 times a week.”

Public Works Director Mike Clarke said tidal flooding has occurred so often this year that the department has reversed its policy from focusing on storm water flooding.

“In the last 8 months or so, we’ve noticed a change in the way mother nature has been dealing with the King tides and issues," he said. "We are now designing to prevent King tide Bay water flooding in the streets, with storm water flooding being secondary to that effort.” 

Clarke said the City is concentrating its efforts on three neighborhoods: Boca Ciega Isle, Casablanca Ave. near Hotel Zamora and Maritana Dr. near the Don Cesar. Installing one-way valves that block sea water from coming up the storm drains is part of the plan.

Resident Mary Palmer, 88, has lived in a home on E. Maritana Dr. for the past 23 years and said for the first time she began planning her day around the high tides.

"It's saltwater. So, it's pretty rough trying to go through. It's bad on your vehicles," she said. "You have to watch the tide if you have to go out and you do your shopping when the tide isn't coming in. It's something you learn to live with it after a while but it gets pretty discouraging." 

Palmer said over the past few weeks, she has seen tidal flooding nearly everyday and the sea water has killed the grass along the curb. 

Pandis lives on the same street and also said that sea water coming up through the storm drains on a sunny day has become more of a recent occurrence.

"It will come into the street and it shuts everything down," he said. "It didn't use to be like this... Just on normal days, we're getting flooding in the streets." 

Boca Ciega Isle residents have gotten so fed up with sunny day flooding that they brought photos and voiced their concerns at a City Commission meeting on Oct. 22.

“I’ve spent thousands of dollars on taxes. I can’t go out and check my mail when it’s flooded,” said resident Bob Fetkin. “You hear this flesh eating bacteria. What if... somebody gets deathly sick from that?” 

“Rain has nothing to do with this flooding. It’s all the tide,” said resident Mark Tearney. “It’s just a real serious hazard, health hazard.”  

“Just in the 15 years I’ve been there, the water level is up about 5-inches,” said resident Steve Gordon. “It is going to increase at an ever increasing rate.” 

Mayor Al Johnson agrees that tidal flooding caused by sea-level rise has been greatly increasing over time on the island.

“Science tells us it’s happening. We haven’t turned our backs on it. We’re dealing with it,”  Johnson said. “We’re getting affected a lot more now by high tides and everything, than we were as even as recently as 3-to-5 years ago.” 

Last month, the City installed a balloon into the storm drain leading to the Intracoastal on Boca Ciega Isle Drive as a temporary measure to block the sea water from coming up into the streets. 

On Tuesday, City Commissioners unanimously passed an $869,000 improvement project that includes the installation of a new 24-inch storm water pipe with a valve, fixing reclaimed water laterals and repaving the road. 

"That will basically increase the capacity of retaining water under the road," said City Manger Alex Rey. "Which will also incorporate the valve that will basically regulate the water being able to come back from the Bay into the streets."  

That work is expected to be complete by the spring of next year but City Manger Rey noted that it's not a permanent solution to the problem.

"There might be situations in some of these neighborhood where there's no way to put sufficient capacity underground,"he said. "Until we begin pumping some of this water for just super, super, heavy rain events."  

Director Clarke said dealing with tidal flooding is the new normal for St. Pete Beach and is a paradigm shift for the island that sits between 3-to-5 feet above sea-level.

“We’re not afraid of the term climate change and we use it. We’re not afraid of sea level rise. We’re not afraid of King Tide," he said. "Let’s call it what it is mother nature is active and she is showing us a different set of cards than she was 50 years ago. So, we better get our act together and start thinking about that.”  

At a Dec. 11 workshop meeting, public works will present concept plans for the other two most affected neighborhoods that include valves, plugging openings in the seawall that served as storm water spillways and future improvements.