Among the main infrastructure issues Hernando wants to address: Building elevation and coastline preservation.
Florida’s new chief resilience officer toured Hernando County last week. He's visiting local communities throughout the state to discuss resiliency goals.
In November, Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Wesley Brooks as the state's new chief resilience officer, after nearly two years of not having a full-time person in the position.
Brooks was director of federal affairs at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and he also worked with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio on environmental initiatives.
The governor's office said in an email that Brooks is meeting with local officials across the state to learn about their specific regional needs.
“Governor DeSantis created the Chief Resilience Officer position with the direction to coordinate statewide response to better prepare for the environmental, physical, and economic impacts of flooding in Florida,” said Jared Williams, deputy communications director for DeSantis’ office.
“To implement this mission, Dr. Wes Brooks has been visiting, and will continue to visit and coordinate with, local communities throughout the state to discuss our shared resiliency goals, including recently in Hernando County.”
James Coleman, Hernando County's emergency manager, said he discussed flooding and sea level rise with Brooks, as Hernando is in the Withlacoochee River Basin.
"One of the things that Dr. Brooks brought up was, we're not just looking at coastal flooding and incidents of that nature, but also inland flooding," he said.
Brooks toured Hernando County Fire Station #6, which is being demolished and rebuilt to the basic flood elevation of 15 feet.
"From there, we went and looked at a home that's being elevated … put on piers or stilts, and it's right at the water's edge. It's one of these homes that has a canal that comes right up to the back of the house,” he said, adding that it’s part of the mitigation and remediation that needs to take place, especially in older communities.
The county wants to also focus on finding ways of preserving the coastline.
Coleman said he’s hoping to get some grant funding through The Resilient Florida Program, legislation that was signed into law in May. It ensures coordination in coastal and inland resiliency.
“Dr. Brooks, talked at length about the grant programs that The Resilience Program is coming out with — they're usually 50/50 grants, and they can be used for projects or for planning purposes,” he said.
The governor recently announced the award of more than $404 million for 113 projects through the program.
“One of the things that the governor mentioned was, he was going to try to leverage that $404 million into over $800 million, with the rest of the state budget with monies that could be appropriated towards the resiliency of the state. So that is really exciting. I mean, that's almost a billion dollars,” said Coleman.
In thinking about storm preparation, he said counties across the state are “all in it together.”
“When these storms hit, it's a regional approach to response and recovery,” he said. “Hernando County doesn't do by themselves. We get with Citrus County, Sumter, Pasco, Pinellas. I mean, everybody jumps in together and it's a regional approach to wherever the disaster hits.”