Babcock Ranch after Hurricane Ian

Hurricane Ian Provides Proof of Concept for Sustainable Community

On October 6, 2022, NPR published a fascinating story by Scott Neumann about a Florida development that survived Hurricane Ian “with barely a scratch.” The community, called Babcock Ranch, is just north of Fort Myers. It didn’t bear the full brunt of the Cat 4 storm, but it did weather 100-mph winds with barely any disruption because of the way it was built.

The homes didn’t flood. And they didn’t lose water, electricity or the Internet. They did lose a traffic light, a couple stop signs and some palm trees, but that was about it, even though surrounding communities experienced structural damage and power outages.

Photo of Babcock Ranch from CBS 60-Minutes Story. See below.

Building Techniques and Standards Increase Resiliency

How can that be? The story cited:

  • The location – 30 miles inland to avoid coastal surge.
  • Buried power lines shielded from high winds.
  • Retention ponds ringing the development.
  • Homes elevated high above street level
  • Solar energy with natural gas and generators for backup.
  • Higher than normal building standards for the area.
  • A community center designed to double as a reinforced storm shelter
  • Master planning
  • Sustainable, “hardened” water and sewage systems.

One of the engineers who designed the community lives there. She said that it might not survive a direct hit from a stronger storm, but everything performed as planned during Ian for the most part. Hurricane Ian provided “proof of concept” for the community’s design.

She added “The developers of Babcock Ranch welcome imitators. Communities elsewhere in the U.S. might benefit from what has been learned here.”

America’s First Sustainable Solar-Powered Town

A local TV station quoted the developer as saying, “It just doesn’t make sense to rebuild the same way every time, knowing that the next time a storm comes by, we end up in the same place.” He proudly calls the 18,000 acre community “America’s first sustainable solar-powered town.”

Nearly 700,000 solar panels create enough clean energy (150 megawatts) to power nearly 30,000 homes. They not only power the growing community of nearly 2,000 homes, but also feed the region. They’re tied to the grid owned by Florida Light & Power.

“There needs to be a lot of thought that goes into how to build, if we’re going to be along the coast, in a way that is resilient,” said Sydney Kitson, the developer.

“Recovery Took Nearly a Day”

Even as residents breathed a sigh of relief after the storm, they were reaching out to help those in less fortunate neighboring communities.

The story of Babcock Ranch and Hurricane Ian was so remarkable that even CBS’ 60-Minutes did a segment on it. See it 10 minutes into the video.

In it, Kitson says that he jumped in his car and drove around after the storm cleared. “We lost a few shingles,” he said. “Recovery took nearly a day.”

I’ll bet a lot of people in Florida right now wish every developer thought like Kitson. He seems to have lived up to all the accolades heaped on his development. It all starts with respecting the power of Mother Nature.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/13/22

1871 Days since Hurricane Harvey