Gov. Signs Bill Requiring State-Backed Coastal Developments To Account For Sea Level Rise

Jun 30, 2020

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has signed a bill that would require state-financed coastal developments to account for sea level rise and storm surge.

“This bill really is the first transformative piece of legislation on climate the legislature has ever passed,” said Miami Democratic Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez, who introduced SB 178. “It says climate change is real, it’s here, and we have to plan for it when we’re spending state taxpayer dollars.”

The bill requires any public entity initiating a coastal project, whether a state agency or local government, to hire an engineer to complete a sea level impaction projection, or SLIP, study, according to guidance from the Department of Environmental Protection.

“That's, I think, a cost that all of us are willing to bear to make sure that we're not wasting billions of dollars over the next couple of decades on new construction and on improvements to publicly funded projects that could have been done more wisely,” said Rodriguez.

The results of all SLIP studies will be posted on the Environmental Protection Agency’s website.

While the law would not require any action to be taken after the study is finished, Rodriguez says that by publicly posting the results, residents will act as a sort of enforcement mechanism by putting pressure on the state or local governments to responsibly use taxpayer dollars.

And Rodriguez says by factoring climate risk into building projects, money will likely be saved.

“We're going to save money over the long term. It may be more expensive right now, but it will save money over the life of a project, because you'll extend the life of it by maybe a decade, maybe more, by designing it now in a way that accounts for the future,” he explained.

The legislation, which unanimously passed both the Florida House and Senate, got only one no vote this legislative session and that came from Fernandina Beach Republican Aaron Bean. 

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

Bean’s office did not respond to a request for comment by this story’s deadline, but before voting against the bill in a February committee stop, 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, when the bill made its way to the Senate floor, Bean joined his colleagues and voted in support.

“Senator Bean is a staunch defender of local government and I think it was a misunderstanding in terms of the reach of the bill,” Sen. Rodriguez explained. “He was ultimately a yes vote on the Senate floor, so I think we worked out some of the concerns that he had.”

Rodriguez hopes this momentum will carry over into future legislative sessions so the state can tackle the other impacts of climate change, as well as its causes.

State Rep. Vance Aloupis (R-Miami-Dade) sponsored the House version of the bill (HB 579).

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