Tuesday, November 20, 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
The Daystarter: Meat-free options for Thanksgiving; a caution for online shoppers; the Rays make a move; a new day in Tallahassee

The Daystarter: Meat-free options for Thanksgiving; a caution for online shoppers; the Rays make a move; a new day in Tallahassee

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what to know today.
Updated: 7 hours ago
Largo may back off sign deadline

Largo may back off sign deadline

Business owners have had 11 years to adhere to the new sign code. Now the City Commission wants to give them more time.
Published: 11/21/18
Tampa Bay ranks No. 9 for package theft around holidays

Tampa Bay ranks No. 9 for package theft around holidays

So-called "porch pirates" steal packages from 26 million Americans during the holidays, a new ranking said.
Published: 11/20/18
How to shop local for Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday

How to shop local for Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday

It’s retail’s big weekend, from Black Friday through Giving Tuesday. But instead of dealing with crowds and lines at the malls and big box stores, support local and small businesses.
Published: 11/20/18
Martha Stewart's first ride on Uber was 'a mess inside and out'

Martha Stewart's first ride on Uber was 'a mess inside and out'

Martha Stewart took to Instagram to document her miserable ride, including a picture that showed debris on the floor and two water bottles.
Published: 11/20/18
Love that new car smell? Ford just figured out how to get rid of it

Love that new car smell? Ford just figured out how to get rid of it

The company recently filed a patent for technology that would allow autonomous vehicles to bake the smell out of themselves.
Published: 11/20/18
Here's why the holiday shopping season is so important for Florida's small retailers

Here's why the holiday shopping season is so important for Florida's small retailers

Beyond Black Friday, the holiday season can make or break some independent retailers.
Published: 11/20/18
After 32 years in St. Petersburg, Texas Cattle Company steak house has closed

After 32 years in St. Petersburg, Texas Cattle Company steak house has closed

Sales at Texas Cattle Company on 34th Street N in St. Petersburg had been declining for a 10 years as dozens of new restaurants sprang up in the city.
Published: 11/20/18
TV’s ‘Billion-Dollar Man’ started by opening up a can of sales success

TV’s ‘Billion-Dollar Man’ started by opening up a can of sales success

Bob Circosta grew into an HSN pioneer because of a ‘crazy’ request to sell a simple appliance.
Published: 11/20/18
Controversial apartment project near Brooksville gets pulled for now

Controversial apartment project near Brooksville gets pulled for now

Flooding and highway access were among the concerns.
Published: 11/20/18