Bay Area leaders begin planning for sea level rise

- By the end of the century, parts of the Bay Area could be under water. Researchers with the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council are keeping a close eye on how sea level rise could impact the region.

The Planning Council's director of resilience, Brady Smith, says they expect the sea level to rise a foot or two "in the short term," but by 2100, they're planning for "some of the worst-case scenario projections, up to almost 7 feet."

He added, "It would be like a Category 1 hurricane impacting our region, except that's what the conditions would be like every day."

In 2015, Governor Rick Scott signed the Peril of Flood Act into law. It requires all local governments along the coast of Florida to evaluate their vulnerability to flooding.

Results of a study released by the Hillsborough City-County Planning Commission show that 80 percent of the properties that would be most affected by flooding in Tampa are publicly owned.

Tampa General Hospital and 30 public parks are at risk, including the new Julian B. Lane Park, which is set to open this May. The 25-acre park will cost $35 million to build.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said he does not believe severe flooding will be an issue at the park.

"I think you're looking at 100 years before this park potentially would be affected, and hopefully by then, mankind will have realized that we created this mess and let's try to do something about it."

He said he believes climate change is largely to blame for rising sea levels.

"The climate is changing and it's predominantly man-made. That's a reality that we're going to have to deal with as elected officials. You can't have a state government that doesn't even allow you to say climate change and find solutions," said Buckhorn.

He said the city is using the results of the study to get prepared by elevating the new park and creating flood resistant, storm-surge protected new buildings in vulnerable parts of the city.

"In the last year, because we now have a revenue source, we have taken out 50,000 tons of debris from our stormwater system," said Buckhorn. "Which means that the street flooding, in South Tampa in particular, will hopefully be mitigated."

With nearly 700 miles of shoreline, Pinellas and Pasco counties face a bigger risk than Tampa.

If sea-level rise caused feet of flooding as predicted, researchers estimated a loss of several billion dollars for the region by 2060, as outlined in a presentation called The Cost of Doing Nothing
by Randy Deshazo
with the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council.

"It's the loss of property itself, the loss of tax dollars, the loss of tourism-related jobs," explained Deshazo. "When those hotels and restaurants flood, that's the end of those jobs, and at the same time, their indirect affect. When people lose those jobs, they're spending goes away."

Deshazo said Florida's east coast is currently taking major steps to address sea level rise.

"Miami Beach is already devoting millions of dollars to retrofitting their city to deal with rising sea levels," said Deshazo.

The city of Miami issued a bond called Miami Forever that contains nearly $400 million. Half of the money will be devoted to sea-level rise.

Researchers said local leaders are open to looking outside of the Bay Area region for possible solutions before it is too late, or too expensive, to alleviate the problem of rising waters.

"Our local governments make investments in our future anytime they install a new bridge or roadway or other parts of our infrastructure," said Smith. "And it's important that when we think about making those investments that we think about protecting them as well, and make sure that they're going to be useful for us 20 or 30 years from now."

Tampa General Hospital officials said they have invested millions of dollars to move back up generators, fuel and power systems to higher levels of the hospital.

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