ST. AUGUSTINE – It's a five-day celebration that the mayor of St. Augustine says has been in the works for more than 5 years.
Our nation's oldest city, right here in Florida, celebrating 450 years of history – history that still defines it today. However, St. Augustine Mayor Nancy Shaver says the years spent preparing for this momentous week have taken their eyes off the ball when it comes to preserving the city. Now they hope its historic foundation doesn't get the best of the city so it can last another 450 years.
The rust and decay underneath the surface may not be as apparent to the millions of tourists who visit year-round, but some residents say they've grown accustomed to its idiosyncrasies, like Flagler College sophomore Kyle Hicks.
"St. Augustine is two feet above sea level, I mean it's not like a huge deal," says Hicks. "It's not a problem we would say, like oh wait we should fix this, because that's just how it goes."
According to the mayor, that's not how it will go much longer. Threatened by deterioration, Mayor Shaver says rising sea levels, dilapidated streets and an aging storm water system are putting St. Augustine at risk.
"We have a master plan and we are working that master plan," says Shaver. "We have neglected our infrastructure for a long time."
That neglect is starting to show, especially when downtown streets flooded and the city's drain systems didn't drain the effects of tropical storm Erika.
Shaver says an estimated 30% of the city's water pipes are rusting.
"Our infrastructure rating is a D, we just completed that assessment," says Shaver.
That assessment report is completed by the Engineering Division of the city's Public Works Department with help from Applied Technology Management. It was based on the American Society of Civil Engineers' (ASCE ) methodology to grade public infrastructure and then assign a letter grade to summarize an infrastructure's score. Mayor Shaver says the rest of the country is struggling with infrastructure right now, especially coastal cities.
With a population of 13,000 people and nearly 40% of its real estate tax base rooted in nonprofits, like churches and museums that don't pay taxes, the budget for the Master Plan is tight.
"We know that our storm water system broadly is undersized. We know we potentially need a pumping station. That's $100 million. We have an annual budget of $50 million."
She met with Governor Rick Scott to discuss how the state can help, something she says, she hasn't seen yet, but says Governor Scott was very keen on helping her get more support.
"I think if Florida values the rarity and the history of this space it absolutely needs its support."
The city's Master Plan to revitalize St. Augustine has been in the works for 3 years. In 2017 all of Kings Street will be restructured.
"It's a rehabilitation. The driver for that is the weakness of the drainage system beneath it. It's a Florida highway so we're not responsible for that cost. But for the remaining 66 miles of streets in that city, this is our problem."
St. Augustine is calculating the cost of several other aspects of the master plan. Their budget will be approved October 1st.
Mayor Shaver says the 450th Anniversary is a week solely focused on celebration, but as soon as it's over, it's down to business.