By Cheryl Blackerby
Palm Beach County joined Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties in 2009 to present the first Southeast Florida Regional Climate Leadership Summit. Elected officials from all four counties came together to discuss challenges and strategies for responding to the impacts of climate change.
So it was a mystery and a subject of discussion at the 2013 summit held in November in Broward, over why Palm Beach County had still not yet signed the group’s Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact, drafted after the first summit.
The strongly worded and detailed action plan has 110 specific recommendations that address the need to protect a vulnerable water supply and coastal infrastructure, among other issues.
On April 15, five years after the plan was written and after the other counties signed on, Palm Beach County finally voted to adopt the plan.
The reason for the county’s reluctance in the past?
In spite of the long lag, County Commissioner Steven Abrams says there was no reluctance.
“The Board of County Commissioners signed onto the plan last because we made a conscious decision to spend time building consensus among the cities and others. County officials met with numerous groups to explain the plan and then the commissioners formally signed onto it,” he said.
Palm Beach County has, in fact, not only backed the plan but actively worked on it, he said. “The commission has supported the compact from the very beginning, has been participating with staff, hosting one of the annual meetings, etc.,” he said.
The compact’s challenges are daunting, according to the counties’ research. One of the group’s findings: Sea levels are projected to rise 3 to 7 inches from 2010 to 2030 in Key West, according to calculations by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
By 2060, Florida’s sea levels could rise 9 to 24 inches. These and other calculations show the enormous risks, not only to people in Key West, but to the 5.6 million residents of these four counties.
Asked how the plan will affect county business such as building codes, Abrams said the county will concentrate on planning ahead.
“Fortunately, Palm Beach County is on higher ground than our neighbors to the south, so we can be less reactive and more proactive regarding our infrastructure,” he said.
Plans for building projects, for example, will have to take a changing climate into consideration.
“As new projects, both public and private, come through, attention will be paid to climate implications,” he said. “Many builders are already taking the environment into account in their buildings by seeking LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certifications, for example.”