‘Take Five’ with NFGCC Green Champion Atlantic Beach Mayor Ellen Glasser

How did you a become a green champion of sustainability?

I often use this adage: “Success occurs when Opportunity meets Preparation”. Our success in Atlantic Beach has been the product of teamwork, dedicated people, good timing, perseverance, and passion. When the City Commission first established environmental stewardship/leadership as its No. 1 priority in 2019, it’s not like we began championing sustainability in a vacuum. Rather, we were helping align synergies with a keen existing focus on sustainability in our community.

Specifically, many government, public, and nonprofit-sector organizations have been driving the sustainability bus.  Locally, this included the City’s Planning and Community Development Department, the City’s Environmental Stewardship Committee (ESC), the North Florida Green Chamber of Commerce (NFGCC), Beaches Go Green, the University of North Florida Environmental Center and being named a LEED Silver City by the U.S. Green Building Council.

As Mayor in my City, I’m a small piece of the sustainability leadership puzzle, and I consider Atlantic Beach to be an incubator right now for creativity and great ideas.  With the City Commission’s enthusiastic support, the public and nonprofit sector are looking closely at Atlantic Beach-specific issues and taking steps to protect the earth while meeting the needs of future generations. I couldn’t be prouder to be part of this initiative!

Being a coastal city, what changes are being felt due to the progressing global warming process?

In Atlantic Beach, one of our major efforts has been to focus on data and the future impacts of sea level rise.  This inspired the City to apply for a grant and undertake a coastal vulnerability assessment. We learned that Mayport tidal records indicate that the mean sea level has risen almost 10 inches since 1930 and that the current rate of change is about 1-inch per decade – and increasing. Predictions by NOAA and other agencies indicate that Atlantic Beach needs to plan for a potential increase in sea levels of about 1 foot in the next 25 years and 2.7 feet in the next 50 years.

Areas of Atlantic Beach already suffer from routine nuisance or “sunny day” flooding during spring tides and normal weather conditions. This problem is being exacerbated by rising sea levels, and over the next 50 years we expect a much larger area of the city to be subject to nuisance flooding. The results of future flood map modeling were used to identify critical city facilities such as potable water wells and sewage lift stations, roadways, homes, and businesses that may have an increased flood risk in the future.

The City is building on its recently completed coastal vulnerability assessment results by using another grant to develop a corresponding adaptation plan.  We will use this information to develop a long-term mitigation strategy.

Does Atlantic Beach have a sustainability or green strategy? What are some of the programs?

Some of our City’s guiding documents pertaining to sustainability and environmental leadership are the ordinance establishing the Environmental Stewardship Committee (ESC); the City’s tree-protection code; and our coastal vulnerability assessment report.  In the near future, we will add a part-time Resiliency Officer and, when completed, the coastal adaptation plan to our sustainability tool kit.

Ordinance establishing the Environmental Stewardship Committee (ESC). The ESC studies and makes recommendation to the City Commission and City staff with respect to the City’s maritime forest; parks and open spaces; beautification of public and private spaces; and environmental stewardship.

Coastal Vulnerability Assessment. By better understanding the risk, the City can effectively identify areas to focus on and make informed decisions moving forward. Protecting the beach, dunes, marshlands and wetlands is critical in defending the Atlantic Beach from hurricanes, erosion and flooding.

Resiliency Officer. In the near future, the City plans to repurpose a position within our Planning Department to include the duties of Resiliency Officer.

Coastal Adaptation Plan. When completed, soon will be added to the City’s environmental leadership toolkit, as will an internal facility sustainability policy the City is developing.

How are you engaging your residents and staff in your sustainability efforts?

Engaging residents starts with our Environmental Stewardship Committee (ESC), a dedicated group of citizen volunteers who serve as a motivating and coordinating body to encourage public and private participation in environmental stewardship. The ESC provides a direct avenue for citizens to share ideas, carry out projects, and potentially influence policies and practices. The committee also works with City staff on Arbor Day observances and tree plantings, and to educate property owners, developers, buildings, and landscapers about environmental and sustainability issues.

Also, by identifying environmental leadership as its No. 1 priority for two consecutive years, and publishing the priorities on its various communications platforms, the City Commission sends a strong message to our residents that sustainability should and will factor in much of its policy-making.

In your view, what role does sustainability play in local government?

Local government has a substantial role in sustainability leadership by engaging citizens, enhancing technical expertise (i.e. the LEED for Cities roadmap), mobilizing financial resources, and developing managerial competency for sustainability. By recognizing and addressing environmental, economic, social and governance issues in strategic planning, our City is squarely focused in that direction, from my vantage point.

Collectively, what have we done? Here’s a partial scorecard of how the City of Atlantic Beach has been a green champion of sustainability.

  • Coastal vulnerability assessment completed
  • Coastal adaptation planning under way
  • Beaches to Marsh Parks master plan initiated
  • Public art, façade and landscape grant program initiated
  • Tree City USA designation reinstated
  • Hundreds of trees planted in rights of way
  • Heritage trees designated on private properties and at city parks
  • Community Arbor Day celebrations established
  • Recycling bins placed at beach accesses and in parks
  • Cigarette Butt Boxes at beach accesses
  • Internationally recognized beach litter basket started
  • Balloon Release Ordinance
  • Outreach on 4 “Rs”: Refuse, Reduce, Re-use, Recycle
  • Home Rule advocate to regulate single use plastic and smoking in public parks
  • City Partnership with Green Market

How can businesses get involved and become more sustainable or green?

I am pretty proud that the City of Atlantic Beach was the first city to join the North Florida Green Chamber of Commerce (NFGCC)! We have and will continue to support their efforts in our community.  To this end, we have tremendous opportunities for partnerships in our community – and in our world.

Greening workplaces and businesses is not only the right thing to do for global health, but green practices have strong linkages to employee well-being, customer loyalty, and community connectivity. Some business operators think that going green is too difficult or too expensive. But going green at its essence is about reducing waste and being conscious of your business’s impact on nature. Purchasing fewer office materials, reducing energy bills, and reducing the stream of single-use plastics are just the tipping point of building a green budget, caring for the planet, and – in some cases – alleviating the stress of unneeded extra costs.

Atlantic Beach business operators who want tips on becoming sustainable are encouraged to contact the City at info@coab.us or (904) 247-5804.

© 2021 North Florida Green Chamber - All rights reserved. Terms of AgreementJacksonville Website Design Fisher Design