By Mary Hladky
Seven municipalities and Palm Beach County have joined forces to determine how they are threatened by climate change and to devise ways to protect residents from its effects.
Boca Raton, Boynton Beach, Delray Beach, Highland Beach, Lake Worth Beach, Lantana, Ocean Ridge and the county have approved an agreement to conduct a climate change vulnerability assessment. The County Commission was the last to sign on, voting Dec. 17.
Once the municipalities and county have data on the threats they face, they will take up the task of making the region more resilient.
“We have put a lot of work into the development of this interlocal agreement and are very proud to see it materialize,” said Rebecca Harvey, Boynton Beach’s sustainability coordinator. “This collaborative approach will enable us to confront the challenge of climate change as a unified front, and we hope it will serve as a model for other communities nationwide.”
The municipalities and county set a Jan. 15 deadline for consultants to submit proposals on how they would conduct the vulnerability assessment, and will select one in February to do the work.
The consultant’s tasks will be completed in two phases, with two tasks to be completed by June 30. The remaining tasks will be finished and a final report issued by March 31, 2021.
The consultant also will create a geographic information system-based interactive mapping tool that can be updated with new data and will allow users to zoom in on a specific neighborhood to see climate change impacts or zoom out to see regional impacts.
The assessment will evaluate the vulnerability of people, property, water and transportation infrastructures, critical facilities, the economy and natural resources.
The governments have budgeted $366,797 to do the work and will share its cost, supplemented by a $75,000 Florida Department of Environmental Protection grant to Boynton Beach.
Students at Harvard University Law School’s Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic determined how much each municipality and the county would pay, based on the size of the city or town, its property values and median resident income, Harvey said.
Boca Raton will pay the most, with the City Council approving the $85,000 expenditure on Nov. 26. The county will pay the least, $20,000, since only small pockets of unincorporated areas are located within the assessment region.
“It is hard to know what to do until you know where you are,” said Boca Raton City Council member Monica Mayotte, an advocate of environmental initiatives. “This assessment will hopefully be our baseline and tell us where we need to go.”
By working together, the cities and towns reason they can get more bang for the buck by avoiding duplicate spending and operating more efficiently.
The Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact, a collaboration of Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties and many South Florida cities, calculated about seven years ago that the area could lose as much as $4 billion in taxable real estate with a 1-foot rise in sea level.
But the compact’s data, centered on sea level rise, is now dated, said Katelyn Cucinotta, environmental analyst with the Palm Beach County Office of Resilience. The vulnerability assessment will update the data and take into account additional threats, including storm surge, extreme heat and rain, hurricanes, saltwater intrusion and pest and disease outbreaks.
“What we are doing now is not sea level rise-centric,” she said. “We are looking at different threats. We are taking a much deeper dive.”
Although some cities, such as West Palm Beach, have done their own assessments, Cucinotta said this initiative differs because eight governments are working together and looking at a region.
“It is novel in that it is a collaborative micro-regional effort” that will not be limited to each city’s individual boundaries, she said.
Florida governments are beginning to grapple with how to pay for climate change adaptation.
Monroe County officials have concluded the county would need billions of dollars to remain a viable place to live in the near future, an amount the county would not be able to pay.
Delray Beach learned in February that it will have to pay more than $378 million to raise roads and seawalls to protect against rising waters.
The consultant is tasked with finding ways to pay for adaptation.
Possibilities, according to interlocal agreement documents, include state and federal funds, special taxing districts, revolving loan funds, public-private partnerships and new types of insurance programs.