Florida Mayors Head To D.C. To Discuss Flooding And Sea Level Rise

Oct 18, 2019

The American Flood Coalition is hosting its first Florida Mayors Summit in Washington, D.C., Monday and Tuesday, where 19 current mayors, representing more than 2.6 million Floridians, will hear from experts and talk to members of Congress about flooding and sea level rise.

The American Flood Coalition (AFC) is a non-profit and nonpartisan organization that brings cities, elected officials, military leaders, businesses, and organizations together to advocate for national solutions to flooding and sea level rise.

Related: Northeast FL Congressmen Rutherford, Lawson Join American Flood Coalition

With more than 1,300 miles of coastline, Florida is more susceptible to sea level rise than any other state in the nation. In the absence of state and federal leadership, many Florida counties and cities have been forced to find ways to adapt to climate change on their own.

The summit will give mayors from some of those communities the opportunity to learn from each other and meet with federal experts on flooding and sea level rise. 

“As a city of three islands at sea level in the middle of Miami’s Biscayne Bay, North Bay Village is working to become a model for resiliency and sustainability at the global level,” North Bay Village Mayor Brent Latham told the AFC. “This summit is an excellent chance to share best practices, strategy, and progress with other mayors, and influence and partner with policy makers as we move ahead towards realistic, implementable solutions.”

The mayors are also expected to spend some time with congressional leaders. Neptune Beach Mayor Elaine Brown hopes that will lead to funding opportunities for local projects.

“We need partnerships with Congress,” she said. “A commitment to help financially with many things. Everything from a disaster to a relocation to resiliency.”

St. Augustine Mayor Tracy Upchurch has a specific project in mind as he heads to the capitol: he’s trying to get federal funding for a study on the local impacts of sea level rise and storm surge.

Upchurch’s city faces a unique challenge when it comes to flooding and sea level rise. 

Like much of Florida, St. Augustine’s economy depends on tourism. But most of the nearly six million people who visit the city every year go to experience its historic resources, many of which are vulnerable to water damage as seas rise and flooding gets worse.

And in a city as old as St. Augustine, which was founded in 1565, many of the homes are themselves historic.

“As we modify to address sea level rise, for instance raising buildings, you then are changing the historic viewscape of the community,” Mayor Upchurch said. “That changes the historic character of a neighborhood, and that is a concern in a place like St. Augustine.”

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Brown thinks this summit is also a great opportunity for federal leaders to learn from Florida’s mayors.

“I think that mayors are in the ditches with all of our residents,” she said. “We are right there, every day, in every meeting, with our residents, and with the people in our areas of concern. The mayors are the ones who get the calls about the flooding. They don't call their congressmen.”

The summit will also include a public briefing on innovative solutions to flooding in Florida. Scheduled speakers include the state’s first Chief Resilience Officer, Dr. Julia Nesheiwat, and Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, whose city has been leading the way on climate adaptation in the Sunshine State.

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As Tim Meerbott, Mayor of the Town of Cutler Bay in Miami-Dade County, put it, these adaptation strategies have multiple benefits.

"As a result of our efforts, not only is our community more resilient in terms of floodplain mitigation and management, but our residents and local businesses also benefit in saving 30% on their flood insurance premiums — which I am proud to announce equates to a total of $1,823,789 savings for the town, per year,” he told the AFC.

Below is a list of the Florida mayors participating in the summit:

Florida Mayors Summit on Flooding and Sea Level Rise participants.
Credit American Flood Coalition

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