Two initiatives in Northeast Florida will start in January to make the region and its businesses more resilient to threats from rising waters brought on by climate change.
The efforts are long overdue in a part of Florida that faces serious threats from rising seas and stronger storms.
The Northeast Florida Regional Council will soon release its “Resilient First Coast” report, three years in the making. And a Jacksonville City Council subcommittee focused on resiliency will soon begin to meet.
The approach by the planning council is different from other regional efforts in Florida, in that the council has relied heavily on input from the business sector to decide on the steps that would be most effective for the area, according to Beth Payne, chief executive officer of the council.
Payne explained that the planning council decided to focus on the needs of business for two reasons: Local governments in Northeast Florida are conservative and have largely not been open to climate change discussions, while local businesses are experiencing problems and want to talk.
“Business people have adopted resiliency in their lexicon and are more ready to talk,” Payne said of the business community. “It was easy to garner support from them. They seemed to have the wherewithal to deal with these concerns and seemed to be receptive.”
Payne and the council will use their business partners to work with local governments to stimulate the public discussion of climate change and how to respond. The council sees 2020 as a year to raise awareness and establish a foundation for discussions. A regional action plan will be developed in 2021. A Business Commission would be established in 2022 to monitor the action plan.
Also, the City of St. Augustine has a newly hired resiliency officer and Atlantic Beach has done a study on future risks to the town from sea-level rise.
But Jacksonville, by far the largest city in the region, has done relatively little despite the warning shot of extensive flooding from Hurricane Irma in 2018.
Jacksonville’s resistance to have public discussions on sea-level rise is about to crack, as City Councilman Matt Carlucci will chair a city council subcommittee to begin that public discussion in January or February, he said.
“We are going to be an action group,” Carlucci said. “There’s a lot of information out there, we need to collect it and focus on action steps the city can take that will make a difference.”
Northeast Florida must play catch up on the sea-level rise discussion. While public officials here have in large part ignored the issue, these two initiatives provide hope that the region is ready to make its communities address threats posed by rising waters.
John Burr has more than 30 years experience as an editor and reporter in Northeast Florida, and is a member of the Jacksonville chapter of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.