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A new study looks at parks and natural areas to absorb impact of storm surge and flooding

The study focuses on three areas, but its lessons can be used for other flood-prone areas.

It's a concept called resiliency — helping people and communities prepare for expected sea level rise and more intense flooding. But instead of relying on pouring more concrete for sea walls, they're using existing green space.

"One of the things that we're focused on in this project is what's called green infrastructure," said Sean Sullivan, executive director of the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, which is coordinating the study.

"And what that really means is we use natural features to help mitigate the impact of extreme weather. So we're talking about using natural features, whether it's sand dunes, or its planting mangroves — helping the mangroves to do their thing and mitigate wave attenuation — there are a number of things that require us to think outside the box and the cities are very interested in that concept."

One of the study areas is R.E. Olds Park in Oldsmar. During sunny days, it's a place for people to recreate along Tampa Bay. But when storm surge or flooding threatens, the park becomes a storage area for water, keeping it away from the city and nearby homes.

Other areas being studied include a closed basin in north Tampa that contains several springs and Pass-a-Grille in St. Pete Beach.

"So the resiliency needs are really different among the three," Sullivan said. "But what we hope to do is that the lessons learned in each of these communities that are similar but have their own characteristics can then be replicated from a resiliency standpoint, really throughout the region and throughout the state."

The six-month study was funded by state lawmakers as part of the Resilient Coastlines Initiative created by Gov. Ron DeSantis through the new Resilient Florida Program.

A symposium held Thursday at the River Center in downtown Tampa highlighted findings from three design charrettes that convened teams of planners, urban designers, landscape architects, engineers, and hydrologists, along with elected officials, municipal staff, residents and local stakeholders.

The Regional Planning Council is partnering with Urban Land Institute Tampa Bay, which focuses on responsible land use, growth and development.