Cayman Islands, Caribbeanand International News
Sunday, Jul 21, 2024

One Florida community built to weather hurricanes endured Ian with barely a scratch

One Florida community built to weather hurricanes endured Ian with barely a scratch

Like many others in Southwest Florida, Mark Wilkerson seemingly gambled his life by choosing to shelter at home rather than evacuate when Hurricane Ian crashed ashore last week as a Category 4 storm.

But it wasn't just luck that saved Wilkerson and his wife, Rhonda, or prevented damage to their well-appointed one-story house. You might say that it was all by design.

In 2018, Wilkerson became one of the first 100 residents of Babcock Ranch — an innovative community north of Fort Myers where homes are built to withstand the worst that Mother Nature can throw at them without being flooded out or losing electricity, water or the internet.

The community is located 30 miles inland to avoid coastal storm surges. Power lines to homes are all run underground, where they are shielded from high winds. Giant retaining ponds surround the development to protect houses from flooding. As a backup, streets are designed to absorb floodwaters and spare the houses.

Mark Wilkerson with his solar-powered golf cart. He was one of the first 100 people to move into Babcock Ranch.

Wilkerson says he and his wife moved here from Illinois. "We'd almost been ready to build north of Tampa, on the Gulf," he says. "And then the last hurricane came through and reminded me that ... I want to be in a place where I don't have to evacuate."

Most residents chose to ride out the storm at home

So when the storm hit, Wilkerson and his wife stayed put, as did most other residents here. Although the community didn't experience the hurricane at its most intense, Wilkerson says they felt 100-mph winds. At one point, the lights in his house flickered but "lo and behold, we never lost power."

In fact, his house didn't even lose a shingle. That's the basic story of Babcock Ranch, post-Ian: Aside from a traffic light at the development's main entrance that's no longer there, a few street signs lying on the ground and some knocked-over palm trees, you'd hardly know that a hurricane came through.

Unfortunately, not so for many of the surrounding communities, where damaged structures and power outages have not been uncommon.

This 870-acre solar array, with 650,000 individual panels, powers Babcock Ranch during the day.

Wilkerson has worked in the solar industry since the 1980s, and one of the things that drew him to Babcock Ranch is its innovative use of solar energy: 870 acres of land owned by the development sport 650,000 photovoltaic panels, operated by Florida Power & Light.

The solar array powers the whole community — and then some. It can supply 30,000 homes. Babcock Ranch has only about 5,000 residents, though. The excess goes back into the grid and is used to power surrounding communities. At night and on cloudy days, a natural gas generator kicks in to fill the gap.

Developers aim for a strong and sustainable community

Babcock Ranch is the brainchild of Syd Kitson, a 64-year-old former professional football player who made his name in the 1980s with the Green Bay Packers. He went on to found a real estate development company, Kitson & Partners, and Babcock Ranch is one of firm's showcase projects.

Jennifer Languell is a sustainability engineer who helped design Babcock Ranch, and she lives here too. "We felt you could develop and improve land, not just develop in a traditional way where people think you are destroying the land."

"We have a lot of open spaces. We have a lot of trails. We have a lot of parks," she says.

"The things that we do, you don't see. The strength of the buildings, or the infrastructure that deals with stormwater, or the utilities. You don't see that stuff," she says. "Which is good, because most people don't need or want to think about it."

Jennifer Languell is a green-building and sustainable-development engineer who helped design Babcock Ranch.

As confident as Languell is of the community's durability, even she was a little unnerved by the storm's sheer strength. "I can definitely tell you that I pulled up my construction drawings and I verified the wind speed," she says.

Their good fortune pays dividends for others in need

Admittedly, Babcock Ranch has a slightly insular feel to it. But partly because residents were spared the full wrath of the hurricane, they have been able to reach out and help those in need.

A community center here was designed to double as a reinforced storm shelter. Everyone staying there right now has come in from other hard-hit communities. Babcock Ranch residents have been fielding requests on social media and shuttling in supplies.

At night at Babcock Ranch, electricity generation switches from solar power to natural gas.

Judith Schrag, 70, who uses a walker, is sitting out front of the shelter smoking a cigarette. She arrived at the Babcock Ranch shelter a few days ago
after her Port Charlotte apartment was flooded out.

The community has been "absolutely phenomenal in terms of donations," Schrag says. "They are what have helped to keep this place going."

Messages written by kids outside the field house and Babcock Ranch community center, which doubles as a hurricane shelter.

Hurricane Ian was a big test for this community, where houses start at around $250,000. Languell says the storm provided "proof of concept" for the community's design. The developers of Babcock Ranch welcome imitators, she adds. Communities elsewhere in the U.S. might benefit from what has been learned here.

But there's still more to learn, Languell says.

"We don't want to brag by any stretch of the imagination, because you do that, and the next thing you know, you get hit by a Category 5 and something doesn't work as well," she says.


Related Articles

Paper straws found to contain long-lasting and potentially toxic chemicals - study
FTX's Bankman-Fried headed for jail after judge revokes bail
Blackrock gets half a trillion dollar deal to rebuild Ukraine
Israel: Unprecedented Civil Disobedience Looms as IDF Reservists Protest Judiciary Reform
America's First New Nuclear Reactor in Nearly Seven Years Begins Operations
Southeast Asia moves closer to economic unity with new regional payments system
Today Hunter Biden’s best friend and business associate, Devon Archer, testified that Joe Biden met in Georgetown with Russian Moscow Mayor's Wife Yelena Baturina who later paid Hunter Biden $3.5 million in so called “consulting fees”
Singapore Carries Out First Execution of a Woman in Two Decades Amid Capital Punishment Debate
Google testing journalism AI. We are doing it already 2 years, and without Google biased propoganda and manipulated censorship
Unlike illegal imigrants coming by boats - US Citizens Will Need Visa To Travel To Europe in 2024
Musk announces Twitter name and logo change to X.com
The politician and the journalist lost control and started fighting on live broadcast.
The future of sports
Unveiling the Black Hole: The Mysterious Fate of EU's Aid to Ukraine
Farewell to a Music Titan: Tony Bennett, Renowned Jazz and Pop Vocalist, Passes Away at 96
Alarming Behavior Among Florida's Sharks Raises Concerns Over Possible Cocaine Exposure
Transgender Exclusion in Miss Italy Stirs Controversy Amidst Changing Global Beauty Pageant Landscape
Joe Biden admitted, in his own words, that he delivered what he promised in exchange for the $10 million bribe he received from the Ukraine Oil Company.
TikTok Takes On Spotify And Apple, Launches Own Music Service
Global Trend: Using Anti-Fake News Laws as Censorship Tools - A Deep Dive into Tunisia's Scenario
Arresting Putin During South African Visit Would Equate to War Declaration, Asserts President Ramaphosa
Hacktivist Collective Anonymous Launches 'Project Disclosure' to Unearth Information on UFOs and ETIs
Typo sends millions of US military emails to Russian ally Mali
Server Arrested For Theft After Refusing To Pay A Table's $100 Restaurant Bill When They Dined & Dashed
The Changing Face of Europe: How Mass Migration is Reshaping the Political Landscape
China Urges EU to Clarify Strategic Partnership Amid Trade Tensions
Europe is boiling: Extreme Weather Conditions Prevail Across the Continent
The Last Pour: Anchor Brewing, America's Pioneer Craft Brewer, Closes After 127 Years
Democracy not: EU's Digital Commissioner Considers Shutting Down Social Media Platforms Amid Social Unrest
Sarah Silverman and Renowned Authors Lodge Copyright Infringement Case Against OpenAI and Meta
Italian Court's Controversial Ruling on Sexual Harassment Ignites Uproar
Why Do Tech Executives Support Kennedy Jr.?
The New York Times Announces Closure of its Sports Section in Favor of The Athletic
BBC Anchor Huw Edwards Hospitalized Amid Child Sex Abuse Allegations, Family Confirms
Florida Attorney General requests Meta CEO's testimony on company's platforms' alleged facilitation of illicit activities
The Distorted Mirror of actual approval ratings: Examining the True Threat to Democracy Beyond the Persona of Putin
40,000 child slaves in Congo are forced to work in cobalt mines so we can drive electric cars.
BBC Personalities Rebuke Accusations Amidst Scandal Involving Teen Exploitation
A Swift Disappointment: Why Is Taylor Swift Bypassing Canada on Her Global Tour?
Historic Moment: Edgars Rinkevics, EU's First Openly Gay Head of State, Takes Office as Latvia's President
Bye bye democracy, human rights, freedom: French Cops Can Now Secretly Activate Phone Cameras, Microphones And GPS To Spy On Citizens
The Poor Man With Money, Mark Zuckerberg, Unveils Twitter Replica with Heavy-Handed Censorship: A New Low in Innovation?
Unilever Plummets in a $2.5 Billion Free Fall, to begin with: A Reckoning for Misuse of Corporate Power Against National Interest
Beyond the Blame Game: The Need for Nuanced Perspectives on America's Complex Reality
Twitter Targets Meta: A Tangle of Trade Secrets and Copycat Culture
The Double-Edged Sword of AI: AI is linked to layoffs in industry that created it
US Sanctions on China's Chip Industry Backfire, Prompting Self-Inflicted Blowback
Meta Copy Twitter with New App, Threads
The New French Revolution
BlackRock Bitcoin ETF Application Refiled, Naming Coinbase as ‘Surveillance-Sharing’ Partner