By Sean Sullivan
Water levels in the Tampa Bay region are expected to rise between 12 and 19 inches over the next 30 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s recent Sea Level Rise Technical Report.
Taken alone, rising seas could challenge the region’s economy, critical infrastructure, and commercial and residential buildings. Compounded with climate change stressors and more frequent higher-intensity storms, the region faces an unpredictable future. But uncertainty can be avoided if government entities and local businesses work together now to develop and implement a commonsense plan to prepare the region for what’s headed our way.
The Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council and its 33-member Regional Resiliency Coalition have taken the first step toward such planning by developing the region’s first comprehensive resiliency action plan.
Two years in the making, the Regional Resiliency Action Plan includes 10 high-level goals and dozens of objectives, plus recommended actions for implementation and collaboration. The plan provides a road map for making the area more resilient to flooding and extreme weather events, such as Hurricane Ian. Our model can become a template for comprehensive planning throughout the region.
Last September, when Ian initially put Tampa Bay in its sights, planners and local governments collectively held their breath, anticipating an event that could cripple the region’s infrastructure and economy. Our plan seemed prescient, but maybe too late.
Hurricane Ian was one of the most expensive natural disasters in American history, second only to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Initial insured damage estimates are $50 to $60 billion. If Ian had made landfall in Tampa Bay, the costs would have been drastically higher.
A recently updated Project Phoenix 2.0 model predicted that 40% of small businesses would have permanently closed, with another 25% closing the next year and 90% closing within two years. In addition, approximately 104,000 buildings would have been severely damaged or destroyed, leading to a direct insured cost of more than $75 billion.
Only planning can mitigate a disaster of this magnitude.
Our plan places data-informed community resilience at the top of the public agenda. For interested governments, the Regional Planning Council can assist in developing resiliency plans that protect energy, food systems and public health, while promoting an array of land uses developed with resilient and energy-efficient construction, including sustainable and attainable housing.
Where feasible, the council will work with municipalities to increase the adaptability of coastal habitats and ecosystems, preserve and restore Tampa Bay’s fish and wildlife, and protect natural shorelines that celebrate and enhance Florida’s beauty.
But to bring the plan to life, we need the support of local business leaders, plus input from residents. The plan encourages local governments to help businesses with disaster preparedness and invite the private sector to participate in emergency management planning. By being a part of the planning process, local businesses that make our communities hum have the best chance to recover after a disaster.
Hurricane Ian and the predicted sea level rise facing Florida are a call to action. The region’s resiliency plan is a great first step because it provides a useful model that anticipates, rather than reacts to, climate stressors and sea level rise. Let’s work together to bring the plan to life.
Sean Sullivan is Executive Director of the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, which brings together governments to coordinate planning and possible solutions for the Tampa Bay region. Learn more about these resiliency programs at www.TBRPC.org.