By Lise Alves, Contributing Reporter
MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA – Eighteen mayors, representing more than 2.6 million Florida residents, met in Washington DC this week with environmental experts and members of the Florida Congressional delegation to discuss solutions to the issue of flooding and sea level rise.
“As mayors, we stand on the frontlines of some of the most pressing issues facing our country, including sea level rise,” Miami Mayor Francis Suarez was quoted as saying by the American Flood Coalition (AFC), entity which organized the summit.
“Thanks to platforms like the American Flood Coalition Florida Mayors Summit, we are able to make our voices heard on the national level. This unifies our region to tackle sea level rise in innovative, collaborative ways that will help both our city and state adapt and thrive in the face of climatic events,” added Suarez.
The AFC, created in 2018, is a non-governmental coalition of a group of cities, that ‘have come together to drive adaptation to the reality of higher seas, stronger storms, and more frequent flooding’. Today the coalition counts on approximately 200 members from fourteen states, including 87 members from 56 towns, cities and counties in Florida.
“Mayors uniquely understand the challenges of flooding and sea level rise. It is mayors who receive the phone calls about flooded streets and intimately understand the challenges that flood-affected communities face,” said Melissa Roberts, Executive Director of the American Flood Coalition.
The meeting covered topics such as making communities resilient to flooding and sea level rise as well as finding funding for those efforts.
With more than 1,300 miles of coastline, Florida may be more susceptible to sea level rise than any other state in the nation. Data has suggested that sea levels around the Florida area will rise by six feet by 2100, affecting the lives of over 2.6 million people who live in the state.
“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 TV reporters during the two-day meeting.
“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.”
Historic Florida towns along the coastline, like St. Augustine, bear much of the burden when the sea level rises, with residents often facing severe flooding.
St. Augustine Mayor Tracy Upchurch spoke of specific projects that his city had undertaken to reduce the impacts of sea level rise and storm surge.
The city, stated the mayor, had already extended a seawall, built in 1840, into the bay front to seven feet high. “We were still able to preserve the 1840s seawall, preserving the historic feature but also providing us with some flooding resiliency,” he noted.
But there are concerns about some suggested projects. “As we modify to address sea level rise, for instance raising buildings, you then are changing the historic look of the community,” Mayor Upchurch said to WUSF TV. “That changes the historic character of a neighborhood, and that is a concern in a place like St. Augustine.”
A noted absence from the meetings were mayors from the Tampa Bay area. According to local news outlets, only two officials from the area were invited, but did not attend.