Miami-Dade County

Task force on rising seas says Miami-Dade County needs step-by-step plan

Faced with a looming July deadline, a Miami-Dade County task force examining the threat of rising seas wrestled Monday with how to rally support for a plan that could cost billions of dollars.

“We’ve all heard enough to know we need a plan,” said Harvey Ruvin, Miami-Dade County’s clerk of courts and chairman of the Sea Level Rise Task Force. “But we’ve got inertia.”

The seven-member panel that has been meeting since November said the county, which has repeatedly studied the issue over the years, needs to take more decisive steps to fortify its infrastructure. Chief among the recommendations: hire engineers to develop a specific plan, not unlike the $20 billion plan unveiled by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg last summer.

“We need to start the process now... by seeking and formally selecting the engineering expertise needed to develop the plan,” reads a draft resolution for the County Commission that calls for addressing, among other things, pump stations, roads and bridges.

Over the years, Miami-Dade has conducted repeated studies on the topic, forming its first climate change task force in 2006. Three years later, Miami-Dade joined Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe counties to devise a regional plan. The county also inserted climate change into its 2011 GreenPrint to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent over the next three decades and in another regional blueprint in 2012 that looked at seven counties over 50 years called Seven50.

“At the seven-county level, that degree of specificity felt way beyond us,” said former University of Miami School of Architecture dean Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, who attended Monday’s meeting and helped design Seven50. “But on a one-county level, it could be very specific.”

Bloomberg commissioned his plan before Hurricane Sandy slammed the city, but Sandy’s devastating storm surge helped him gain support for immediate action. In Miami-Dade, the looming insurance crisis poses a more immediate threat, task force members said.

Parts of Florida could become uninsurable with seas projected to rise three feet by 2100, an insurance analyst with Swiss Re, the world’s second largest reinsurer, testified at a Senate field hearing on sea rise in Miami Beach last week. In February, another Swiss Re expert told Ruvin’s task force that $6.4 billion in global losses from weather events were reported in the 1980s compared with $40 billion between 2000 and 2010. By taking steps to shore up infrastructure and incorporate climate change in planning, about $30 billion in losses projected for 2050 could be avoided, the expert said.

“We need to make that argument,” task force member Arsenio Milian, a former board member for the South Florida Water Management District, said Monday. “If we just pretend it isn’t happening, we’re going to be suffering all those losses.”