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State House Candidate: Jacksonville Needs Tallahassee’s Help To Prepare For Sea Level Rise

Florida National Guard soldiers going door to door in the Jacksonville area around Ortega Island following Hurricane Irma, Sept. 11, 2017.
The National Guard
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Florida National Guard soldiers going door to door in the Jacksonville area around Ortega Island following Hurricane Irma, Sept. 11, 2017.

The Democratic candidate for Florida House District 16, a seat currently held by Republican Jason Fischer, says Jacksonville needs to invest more in its infrastructure to prepare for future sea level rise, and it needs funding from the state to do so.

Candidate Ben Marcus addressed members of Jacksonville’s Resiliency and Climate Change Coalition on Tuesday morning. 

He said he worries future sea level rise could be devastating for Jacksonville, given the state of the city’s infrastructure.

“I am very much a big believer in getting the state actively involved in this. I don't think the city is going to have the resources necessary to really do this in a timely manner. And so that's a big part of what I'm running on,” he said.

Marcus’s opponent in November, incumbent Republican Rep. Jason Fischer, told WJCT News the state is investing in the environment. 

“We have spent billions of dollars since I've been in the state Legislature making sure that we are focused on cleaning up our environment, cleaning up our water, cleaning up the air, and doing beach renourishments,” said Fischer, who is an engineer. “As a Republican, I know that we care about clean air and clean water and we've been putting our money where our mouth is.”

Marcus said he thinks Jacksonville should focus on protecting its shorelines and investing in green infrastructure —  natural solutions like planting trees, which provide habitat, flood protection, cleaner air and cleaner water.

Related: He’s The Lorax Or The City’s Official Tree Butcher, Depending Whom You Ask

He’s optimistic about the fact that Mayor Lenny Curry has included funding in his budget for the next fiscal year to hire a Chief Resilience Officer and to establish a Resiliency Office.

“I've come to understand that the costs associated with getting our city prepared for sea level rise are just insane. We're talking about billions upon billions of dollars. It's an incredibly complicated situation. And so it is promising to see that the city is actually going to be investing in the professional staff that are needed to coordinate our efforts here locally,” he said.

But he doesn’t think enough is being done at the state level —  a deficiency he hopes to address if he’s elected in November.

“I think it's incredibly important to make sure that we have state legislators there in Tallahassee who really believe in actively investing in our resiliency measures,” Marcus said.

Related: State House Candidate Asks Environmentalists To Highlight Issues In Northwest Jacksonville

Fischer said he supported Gov. Ron DeSantis’s decision to hire a Chief Resilience Officer for the state and he supports Mayor Lenny Curry’s decision to hire a CRO for the city of Jacksonville.

“The Republican majority has pushed forward policies for climate resiliency that have included an all-of-the-above energy strategy,” said Fischer. “If you look at Florida's power mixture, it's primarily natural gas. We've transitioned away from mostly coal, as a state, to mostly natural gas and we've increased our portfolio of solar power and other alternative energies.”

Natural gas emits about half as much carbon dioxide per unit of energy output as coal, according to the U.S. energy Information Administration. But there is growing evidence that government data has overestimated the benefits of switching from coal to gas, as was reported by InsideClimate News.

Fischer said right now the state needs to be focused on the coronavirus.

“We're focused on trying to get people’s unemployment benefits, we're trying to get people back to work, we're trying to help people create some opportunities for themselves, and you get these environmentalists who are trying to destabilize our economy, our power structure, our way of life,” Fischer said.

But Marcus said he sees renewable energy as a way to improve the state’s economy.

“I think the state could be a leader in not only the installation and utilization of the technology, but also the manufacturing of the technology, as well, to really help transition the state and our country's economy to one that supports green technology,” he said.

Brendan Rivers can be reached at brivers@wjct.org, 904-358-6396 or on Twitter at @BrendanRivers.