Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Business

Sunday Conversation: Engineer Holly Kremers looks to build resilience against sea-level rise

Like every other Tampa Bay resident, Holly Kremers paid close attention as Hurricane Irma bore down on Florida last September. • Kremers, however, also spent a good deal of time glued to the telephone with officials in Miami Beach. • You see, the storm tested Kremers’ newly-minted engineering work in Miami Beach. The Wade Trim engineering senior vice president helped craft a plan to make the roads and infrastructure more resilient to flooding and sea level rise, and Irma provided the first measure of its effectiveness.

Did it work? Yes. While Kremers stayed dry in Tampa, the efforts of her three-year project helped Miami Beach also survive.

Now Kremers has assumed the title of corporate resiliency practice lead, and the measures used in Miami Beach will help guide the firm’s efforts around the state as coastal cities begin to gird against sea level rise.

Kremers recently spoke with Tampa Bay Times columnist Ernest Hooper about resiliency, sea level rise and why she never shied away from pursuing a career in a male-dominated field.

Tell me about the project in Miami Beach.

In the city of Miami Beach, they have sea level rise issues going on just like everybody else in coastal Florida. The difference there is all the infrastructure, all the roads are built on porous limestone filled with groundwater. Not only do they have rising tides, they also have rising groundwater. They’ve experienced sunny day flooding where the roads would flood on a sunny day from the ground up.

How did you come up with a solution?

We looked at different solutions cities around the world have used to protect buildings and infrastructure from flooding. A lot of places have built berms, dykes and levies to hold back the water, but when you have water rising from underneath the ground, those things don’t work. We realized we needed a more unique approach, so we literally decided to raise the city, starting with the roads. We picked an elevation for the new roads so even when the ground water would rise up, it would be lower than the sub-base of the road. In our pilot neighborhood, which was called Sunset Harbor, we raised the roads 2 1/2 feet. We also installed stormwater pump stations to ensure the elevated roads wouldn’t push water onto private property and protect the buildings from flooding. Most importantly, because Miami Beach is basically an island, we had to make sure the roads would be higher than the highest tide, even during a storm, so people could get off the island.

So the neighborhood remained dry during the hurricane. What was the emotion to see your efforts work?

It was nervousness until we saw that it worked. After that, it’s really something that we’re proud of and I’m personally proud of. I mean, it’s my PE (professional engineer) seal on the project as the engineer of record. We’re setting the precedent for how sea level rise projects will be done throughout the city, and it’s a strategy that we see being replicated throughout the state.

I spoke to a group of scientists earlier this year, and they have models predicting sunny day flooding for a lot of coastal areas in 2030, 2035 and 2040. What’s your perspective?

I’ve seen a lot of different estimates taking it out to a number of years. I consider myself a scientist, but I’m also an engineer, so I like to see data about what’s happened in the past. By looking at what’s already happened, we can see that sea level is rising. What we need to do is look at patterns to establish what has been happening and prepare for what could happen. Here in the Tampa Bay area, where we’re surrounded by water everywhere, we should be looking at raising infrastructure as well as looking at creating controlled flooding areas. We have to control it and give the water a place to go. If we do that, we can keep our properties, our people and our roadways safe.

Some say give climate change a high priority, others don’t believe. It sounds like you’re in the middle. Where are you on that spectrum?

My career path has led to me looking at resilient solutions, sustainabilty solutions. I try to keep the politics and the opinions out of it. I look at data. We know climate change is happening, sea level rise is happening, but in terms of where we’re going and how bad it will be, we don’t know. We’re looking at coming up with resilient solutions that can help us now, and be modified 30 years down the road when we have another 30 years of data and new information.

Looking at Tampa Bay, are our communities doing enough?

A lot of the communities that we talk to, they do have plans in place. They’re doing sea level rise vulnerability studies, and then incorporating the information into their capital improvement plans; their plans for utility projects and roadway projects. We’re on the right path. We just need to figure out now what we need to do to put those plans into action, and start doing projects to prepare for what will be happening. I’m looking forward to seeing the next step and working with communities to get projects funded.

Growing up, did anyone ever make you feel like engineering is a "guys thing?"

I guess if they did, I didn’t notice. My mother has a math degree and I grew up with her teaching, so it never seemed odd to me to be around women who were good at science and math. In my engineering school (Michigan Technical University), it was 3 males to 1 female. But once you get over that fact and start applying yourself and doing your work, it’s something I never really noticed much.

What does it mean to be the resiliency practice lead at Wade Trim?

It’s something that we started six months ago. In doing this work, we realize there’s a place for it, not only in Florida, but across our 20 offices nationwide. There’s a place to look at resiliency and different kinds of changes in every project we do across the market. It’s the coolest job I’ve had in my 20 years of doing this.

Contact Ernest Hooper at [email protected] Follow him at @hoop4you.

Comments
Study: Tampa International Airport ranks fourth best for satisfying travelers

Study: Tampa International Airport ranks fourth best for satisfying travelers

Times Staff WriterTampa International Airport was named the fourth-best large airport in the U.S. at keeping travelers satisfied, according to a study by J.D. Power released Wednesday.Meanwhile, the study ranked Orlando International as the country’s...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Valet parking? A concierge? Midtown Tampa outlines plans for an amenity-rich office building

Valet parking? A concierge? Midtown Tampa outlines plans for an amenity-rich office building

TAMPA — A sudden boomlet in premium office space is getting boomier as developers detail their plans for the first of three office buildings planned at Midtown Tampa, a $500 million mixed-use development near Interstate 275 and N Dale Mabry Highway.M...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Home refinancings up dramatically in the Tampa Bay area

Home refinancings up dramatically in the Tampa Bay area

Counter to the national trend, refinancings in the Tampa Bay area increased in the second quarter of this year. According to ATTOM Data Solutions, lenders originated 41 percent more refinancing loans in April, May and June than they did in the same p...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Too many homeowners forced to tap home equity to pay for day-to-day expenses

Too many homeowners forced to tap home equity to pay for day-to-day expenses

Tapping home equity to pay for day-to-day expenses like groceries and utilities is a recipe for financial peril. It can work for a while, especially if home prices are rising. Eventually the spigot runs dry, bills pile up and your home can be lost to...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Daniel Ruth: City owes Gonzmart and Princess Ulele more than a notice of code violation

Daniel Ruth: City owes Gonzmart and Princess Ulele more than a notice of code violation

This has to be height of bureaucratic pettiness, especially for a city whose track record in promoting quality public art falls somewhere between stick figures and finger puppets.Richard Gonzmart is a community treasure. As the force behind a number ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
‘Something fishy’ about sale of a golf-course villa in Seminole

‘Something fishy’ about sale of a golf-course villa in Seminole

SEMINOLE — There were so many unusual aspects to the sale of a certain Seminole villa that it’s hard to know where to begin. Is it with the fact the villa sold for $100,000 despite a cash offer of $128,700? Is it that the buyer was a Realtor in the s...
Updated: 2 hours ago
New restaurants: Olivia from Chris Ponte, Crabby Bill’s Off the Hook

New restaurants: Olivia from Chris Ponte, Crabby Bill’s Off the Hook

COMING SOON: OLIVIAChris Ponte, right, has been a steady and notable culinary leader in our area for more than a decade with his flagship restaurant Cafe Ponte in Clearwater. A couple of years ago he mixed things up a bit by debuting On Swann in Hyde...
Updated: 2 hours ago
AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson steps down after 20 years in driver’s seat

AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson steps down after 20 years in driver’s seat

Associated PressFORT LAUDERDALE — Mike Jackson is stepping down after almost two decades leading AutoNation, the nation’s largest dealership chain. Jackson, 69, steered AutoNation through the economic crisis and shares have increased fourfold since h...
Updated: 4 hours ago
‘Imminent’ bankruptcy filing for law firm of suspended St . Pete lawyer Mark Stopa

‘Imminent’ bankruptcy filing for law firm of suspended St . Pete lawyer Mark Stopa

The law firm of suspended St. Petersburg attorney Mark Stopa is in such chaos that much of its staff has quit — some after suffering stress-related breakdowns — and a liquidation bankruptcy filing is imminent.In an emergency motion filed this week in...
Published: 09/19/18
Apartments, retail centers planned for north side of SR 54 in Land O' Lakes

Apartments, retail centers planned for north side of SR 54 in Land O' Lakes

LAND O’ LAKES — A forest of pine and oak trees and an aging mobile home neighborhood could be replaced by luxury apartments and a pair of retail centers along State Road 54 west of Cypress Creek.In separate proposals, land owners and de...
Published: 09/19/18