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By Theresa Pinto M.S., Contributing Reporter

MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA – On July 22nd, the Monroe County Commission approved a measure to participate in Rebuild Florida’s state-funded disaster recovery program, which has allocated $10 million to the County for voluntary home buyouts. Monroe County, population 73,090 as of the 2010 census, has their county seat in Key West.

Monroe County Commissioners approved a measure to disburse $10 million for home buyouts throughout the Keys, Miami Beach, Miami, Florida, News
Monroe County Commissioners approved a measure to disburse $10 million for home buyouts throughout the Keys, photo courtesy Monroe County.

The original intent of the home-buyout program is to manage areas prone to repeated flooding, specifically those impacted by Hurricane Irma.

The special public hearing took place at Marathon Government Center where the Commission sought public input on the matter. The funding is being administered through the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) and comes from Community Development Block Grants.

The city of Marathon had already joined the home buyout program under Rebuild Florida and made a call for applications on July 19th. They will hold a public meeting on August 13th at the Marathon City Council to discuss it further.

According to the official Marathon Rebuild Florida website, “as of April 2019, more than 1,250 households in the Florida Keys have registered for Rebuild Florida […] 533 already have been prioritized and provided applications.” If all 533 applications are submitted and approved, this averages $18,762 per application.

Home buyouts in areas feeling the impacts of sea level rise are part of a larger coastal management policy known as “managed retreat”, sometimes called “managed realignment”. In terms of coastal erosion, managed retreat allows an area prone to flooding to be reclaimed by the sea, restoring intertidal habitats as well.

But if there are residences, then it means demolishing those homes in order to allow the shoreline to move inland. The homes are usually purchased at the government’s expense. Rebuild Florida claims that Keys’ homes meeting the criteria of their program will be purchased at pre-Irma market values.

However, the median home value in Marathon is $488,000, which would allow for the purchase of only twenty homes out of the 533 possible applicants, as the program currently stands.

The concept of managed retreat is controversial. While Florida solely mentions voluntary home buyouts and flood mitigation, California’s Coastal Commission is asking every California municipality along the Pacific Ocean to have a managed retreat plan for sea level rise.

Keys' homes prone to flooding will be assessed for the program and bought at market-rate value, Miami Beach, Miami, Florida, News
Keys homes prone to flooding will be assessed for the program and bought at market-rate value, photo courtesy of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Sea level rise will impact over 600,000 California homes according to the U.S. Geological Survey, which is why the Coastal Commission is insisting on planning for the it.

However, California’s cities are not in complete agreement, many opting for hard engineered seawalls and beach nourishment rather than managed retreat. “People just don’t want that word anywhere,” according to John Imperato, a member of Del Mar’s Sea Level Technical Advisory Committee.

Del Mar, located just north of San Diego, last year rejected the idea of managed retreat. The City’s mayor Dwight Worden said, “We want to defend [sic] homes as long as it’s possible to do so by maintaining a wide beach.”

However, as sea level rise becomes more and more undeniable, the first ever conference on managed retreat took place at Columbia University on June 19th of this year. New York and New Jersey already have experience with managed retreat practices after the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy.

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