Environmentalists draw line on the pavement to draw attention to Miami Beach sea-level rise

11/14/2013 5:52 PM

11/14/2013 8:24 PM

Water pours in from Biscayne Bay.

Miami Beach City Hall is underwater. Lincoln Road is inundated, too. The Art Deco hotels along Ocean Drive are engulfed by the rising tide.

All of these Miami Beach landmarks would be lost if sea level rises six feet. The Army Corps of Engineers is predicting a 2-foot rise by 2060, but the environmentalists quote a University of Miami geology professor who says a 6-foot rise is possible by 2100.

To make that point, a coalition of local environmental organizations, working in conjunction with a New York artist, are putting down a 26-mile-long chalk line through Miami and Miami Beach to mark just how high the tide would reach — and what would be flooded in its path.

Artist Eve Mosher first completed the project in New York City in 2007. When Hurricane Sandy hit in fall 2012, many of the streets marked by Mosher ended up underwater, she says. Called the HighWaterLine, the project has been repeated in London and Philadelphia.

Marta Viciedo, founder of the local Urban Impact Lab, helped organize the Miami-Dade edition of the HighWaterLine.

“Miami Beach is the first to go. Miami Beach is the most climate vulnerable,” she said.

Starting Wednesday, a group of South Floridians began laying down the line through the busiest and most iconic areas of the city. The people creating the light blue path would all be uniquely impacted by higher tides — a homeowner who would lose his house, a great-grandson whose ancestor’s namesake road would be washed out, a first generation Miamian who would see the only hometown she has ever known taken over by saltwater.

The event ends Sunday in Brickell.

Using projections by the non-profit Climate Central, the group will mark two different scenarios: where the water will reach if tides rise three feet, or up to six feet.

“It’s not just that the streets aren’t there, the sidewalks are flooded. Certainly, Miami Beach residents are dealing with that now,” Viciedo said. “But it’s that the water and sewer system will not operate as it does now. The fresh water supply will be compromised.

“So it goes beyond just being able to move around or use the city and interact with the city. It’s just an issue of even survival.”

On Wednesday, Mauricio Giammattei guided the machine down Bay Road in Miami Beach — right past his own home. It would be underwater if tides increase by 3 feet.

But the 22-year Beach resident is not about to split for higher ground.

“I’ve been here for such a long time that its very hard to imagine myself leaving the city. ... The plan is to get involved with my homeowners association and to start having discussions about how we might deal with it,” Giammattei said. “I think we live in a very resilient city, made up of thousands of people who come from other places. We can really see ourselves out of this.”

The next day, Thorn Grafton pushed the chalk machine down Collins Avenue, which is named after his great-grandfather, John S. Collins. Graft passed in front of Bass Museum of Art, which was designed by his late grandfather, Russell Pancoast. Both the avenue and the museum would be underwater if sea level rises six feet.

“History is living and it takes on its own life, and it’s going to fascinating to see the evolution of this amazing, electric island city, 50 to 100 years from now,” Grafton said. “You know, even Venice in Italy is seriously threatened by floods, but it still has a life of its own and its still a place that people want to visit, and I think its going to be the same in Miami Beach.”

As Thorn pushed the chalk machine, visitor Hope Roots took notice.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

A team member launched into an explanation.

Visiting from the costal city of Portsmouth, Va., the message hit close to home for Roots.

“We actually just moved from a waterfront house for that very reason. We were flooded out three times, and that was enough.”

“So you’re somebody who has to get involved,” the team member said. “That’s the point of the project: to talk to people in the street, and to drum up awareness and get people involved.”

Giammattei, the homeowner whose house on Bay Road would be flooded, shared some websites with Roots.

“I’ll have a look at it,” she said. “I’m glad I asked.”

Follow @Cveiga on Twitter.

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