Fernandina Beach Senator Sole ‘No’ As Sea Level Rise Bill Passes Committee

Feb 13, 2020

A bill that would require state-financed coastal developments to account for sea level rise got its first no vote in a committee stop on Thursday, and it came from a prominent Northeast Florida senator.

Senate Bill 178, introduced by Miami Democrat Jose Rodriguez, would keep state-financed builders out of coastal areas unless they first conduct sea level impact projection, or SLIP, studies. The assessments would have to account for potential sea level rise and increased storm risk during the expected life of the structure or 50 years, whichever is less.

The requirements would also apply to reconstruction projects in coastal zones.

“For example, let's say there's a major structure that gets damaged by a storm. If we're going to use state taxpayer dollars just to rebuild it the way that it was before, that may not be the smartest investment of taxpayer dollars,” Rodriguez explained. “This is not changing any building codes or anything like that. This is simply requiring a study before those taxpayer dollars are expended.”

At Thursday’s meeting of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Environment and General Government, Fernandina Beach Republican Aaron Bean was the first to pose a question.

“What do we expect it to cost to do a sea level rise study in the coastal zone?” Bean asked.

“Having worked with stakeholders in developing this bill, the idea is to minimize the cost,” Rodriguez answered. “The idea here is to be as simple and streamlined as possible, but at the same time ensure that the taxpayer dollars — in particular here, state taxpayer dollars — are being used wisely.”

Rodriguez went on to explain the SLIPs would be based on conservative sea level rise projections that are already being used by some municipalities.

Palm Coast Republican Sen. Travis Hutson suggested the bill could go even further. 

“Why would we just keep it to the state?” asked Hutson. “Why would you limit it to one state agency versus having the locals participate, so across the board we’re resilient?”

Rodriguez said he believes their responsibility as state legislators is the stewardship of state taxpayer dollars.

“Having very conservative baseline standards that go with state dollars, the hope is to have an impact, frankly, on credit ratings and that kind of thing in the future, just to show that we are being wise stewards of our taxpayer dollars at the state level,” he said. “Hopefully that's leadership that would be followed at the local level in places where it isn't already. And frankly, many coastal jurisdictions already do some form of this.”

In the end, Bean was the only one on the 10-member committee to vote against SB 178.

“Senator Rodriguez, I want to be there with you, but I'm not there yet,” he said. “I just hear how hard it is to build anything, to get a building permit for anything, so I worry that we're putting up more red tape. However, I'll see this bill again and maybe we can chat and see how we can use science to make sure that we use tax dollars in the best interest.”

The bill has breezed through three committees with Bean’s the only no vote, and it has one committee stop left. The House companion, HB 579, has yet to make a committee appearance.

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