Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to sign a new bill that would approve projects fighting sea-level rise and flooding. New and improved seawalls in Miami and West Palm Beach, upgraded drainage in Key West and Doral and reconstructed roadways could all be underway with the Resilient Florida Grant Program established under the bill.
The state legislature unanimously approved the bill (SB 1954), which would provide up to $100 million a year to combat sea level rise and flooding.
The Resilient Florida Grant Program would be created within the Department of Environmental Protection and allocate state-funded grants to local governments to address sea level rise and assess flooding risks based on a review of the state’s at-risk areas. It also establishes a Florida Flood Hub for Applied Research and Innovation within the University of South Florida College of Marine Science.
According to House Speaker Chris Sprowls, the bill is “one of the most robust and bold proposals in the entire United States of America to tackle sea level rise and coastal flooding of any state.”
However, scientists say that there is still plenty more to be done.
“This is a step in the right direction,” Tiffany Troxler, Director of Science at the Sea Level Solutions Center said. “We just need more of it.”
Despite addressing sea-level rise and flooding, the bill fails to acknowledge the most prevalent cause of these statewide crises: climate change. It establishes policies recognizing the effects of climate change without considering leading contributors, such as greenhouse gas emissions.
“We need to see real state leadership acknowledging climate change and focusing on climate change as the driver of all of these other problems,” Thomas Ruppert, coastal planning specialist at the University of Florida said. “The bill does a lot of great things. It clearly recognizes the risks of sea level rise and increased flooding. But it never talks about the fact that the driver for those problems is climate change.”
The Resilient Florida Grant Program is a significant move towards protecting Florida from damaging flooding and sea level rise. But according to Ruppert and Troxler, addressing the cause of the flooding and sea level rise is just as crucial.
“We need to have a climate change mitigation response, but we also have to get busy on reducing risks to our homeowners and business owners so we can continue to invest in resilience, reducing flood risk, and reducing flood insurance rates that are going to continue to increase unless we take some pretty serious action,” Troxler said.
According to Ruppert, adapting the government to Florida’s changing environment is a necessary and good response. However, ignoring climate change is not a sustainable plan.
“If nobody debates the results, why would you debate the cause,” Ruppert said.
The lack of acknowledgment of climate change is not the only concern with the bill. The funding for this program comes from the documentary stamp tax, which helps fund affordable housing in the state.
Under another bill (SB 2512) approved by the House, the documentary stamp tax dollars will be reduced from the State Housing Trust Fund and Local Government Housing Trust Fund and reallocated to the Resilient Florida Trust Fund and the Water Protection and Sustainability Program Trust Fund.
This decision to significantly cut the funding going into affordable housing and redirect it towards combatting sea-level rise and wastewater treatment has been controversial among many.
“One of the challenges of more frequent flooding at lower elevations from sea level rise and storm surges is that it is already driving the property market to change the value of vulnerable properties compared to less vulnerable properties. This is leading to gentrification issues, exacerbating already severe problems with affordable housing,” Ruppert said. “Florida is trying to address one of the problems that is making affordable housing even more difficult, yet they are taking over half of the funding from these affordable housing programs.”