There is water in the streets. It’s there when it rains hard, when tropical weather blows through, when the highest tides of the year align with phases of the moon and when Lake Okeechobee water is diverted into canals and drained into the ocean.
Sometimes, all of these things happen at the same time and public safety is at risk.
Yet, as I attend the public meetings of our coastal municipalities, inevitably some member of the public — or an elected representative of the people — suggests that rising and standing water are nothing new and we shouldn’t be concerned. They say most of the land along the Intracoastal Waterway was created by fill and is sinking. They proclaim that water in the streets has nothing to do with sea level rise. Some even question why we should spend taxpayer money on the sinking land of individual homeowners.
This is a heartless and narrow-minded approach to a problem that affects all of us who live along the ICW and cannot be wished away.
Palm Beach County’s property appraiser estimates the value of properties east of A1A to be worth $64 billion. It’s easy to imagine the property between A1A and the ICW is worth as much or more, since the bulk of real estate on the barrier island falls into this area.
That’s a lot of value (and its corresponding tax base) to watch it sink under the depths of denial and neglect.
Thankfully, there are community leaders and concerned residents who see a bigger picture and want to find answers. They realize the impact rising water levels have on our local economy and are seeking ways to hold back the flood waters of crisis before they begin to erode the waterfront real estate market.
Solutions won’t be cheap, but in our coastal market, infrastructure hardening and repair will only increase long-term value. And well-timed maintenance, along with implementation of flooding-sensitive building codes, can provide immediate results.
But we should not avoid hard conversations about land banking and eminent domain and property abandonment. Wastewater management and septic systems will also need to be discussed.
These don’t have to be partisan discussions, and just because we talk about these things now doesn’t mean they will happen tomorrow. It’s time to start talking about possible solutions and stop denying that there is water in the streets.
— Mary Kate Leming, Editor