South Miami

South Miami revisits idea of making South Florida the 51st state

Florida consists of 67 counties, with a population of more than 19 million. The state of South Florida would occupy 39 percent of the state’s area and have a population of 13.4 million, or 67 percent of the state’s population.
Florida consists of 67 counties, with a population of more than 19 million. The state of South Florida would occupy 39 percent of the state’s area and have a population of 13.4 million, or 67 percent of the state’s population. Rob Hainer /

With state agencies reportedly being banned from using terms such as “climate change, global warming, sustainability, and sea level rise,” several South Miami city officials see South Florida being ignored and disrespected.

That’s one reason Vice Mayor Walter Harris sponsored a resolution requesting that the Miami-Dade County League of Cities form a committee to investigate the possibility of the creation of South Florida as the 51st state. South Miami commissioners passed the resolution on a 3-2 vote Tuesday. The resolutions was also passed in October.

“It’s a huge problem and they aren’t addressing it,” Mayor Philip Stoddard said. “They are ignoring South Florida. They are ignoring its environmental problems. The flow of money is still inequitable. We ship a lot of money north that doesn’t come south again.”

In my mind [the resolution] is calling really for recognition of the issues down here.”

Harris and Stoddard also sit on the city commission.

On March 8, the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting reported that Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) officials have been ordered not to use the terms “climate change, global warming, sustainability, or sea-level rise.”

Governor Rick Scott denied that administrators in the DEP were banned from using the terms “global warming” or “climate change.”

The Florida Center for Investigative Reporting also reported that employees from various state agencies — including the Florida Department of Transportation, the Florida Department of Health, and the South Florida Water Management District — have been told not to use the terms.

“South Florida is ground zero,” Harris said. “Miami-Dade County is ground zero for any populated area to be in harm’s way for rising sea levels, which is happening far faster than anybody imagined even just a few years ago.

“Tallahassee doesn’t want to hear about it anymore, especially because it came up a few months ago with the separation and creation of a 51st state.”

. Monroe County, Palm Beach County, Broward County, and Miami-Dade County sit 5 feet —or less — above sea level.

It is estimated that there will be a sea-level rise of 3 to 6 feet by the end of the century, which would hit South Florida especially hard due to its very porous limestone rock, causing rapidly rising waters to come through the ground and flood inland areas.

“[Banning terms] is a total slam to South Florida, [which] requires more attention, more funds, and more investigation to deal with ever increasing problems,” Harris said. “Which is why I want to create a 51st state so we can deal directly with this issue and not have a Tallahassee.”

Brian McNoldy and other researchers from the University of Miami’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences recently found that the sea level on Virginia Key has risen nearly 4 inches since 1996, and that the rate of increase is accelerating.

Harris said he has spoken to West Miami and plans to speak with Pinecrest, Cutler Bay, Miami Beach, and other cities to adopt the resolution for a committee.

“We passed it, and I’ve started now speaking to some of the other cities,” Harris said. “This is a much easier resolution for the cities to adopt because they aren’t going out on a limb saying that they want to be separated. They just want to investigate the possibility. … There is a lot of individual support.”

The resolution states that the formation of a committee will enable a broader range of ideas to be put forth and allow for people who represent a variety of groups to be involved and spread the word among the municipalities.

“Once we get before the League of Cities we will have some movement going,” Harris said. “Once that happens, there is no telling where it’s going to go. The attitude of communities is they do not want to create too much trouble. Let’s not rock the boat. But the boat is sinking. The attitude is also: so we create a state for 150 years. Then the state will be gone. That’s a legitimate argument, that in 150 years, South Florida can be completely gone.”

Harris’ October resolution picked up local, national, and international steam as news organizations requested interviews with him.

“What Walter is trying to do here is looking for a little bit of help,” Stoddard said. “Whether it is ultimately the creation of a new state or whether it just sort of just shakes things up a bit I don’t know. But certainly trying to find people who are interested in elevating this issue and bringing them together is a good thing.”

Stoddard cited the Florida Senate’s recently released plans for Amendment 1 funds as another disconnect between Tallahassee and South Florida.

“We just saw in the Legislature this week how they are dealing with Amendment 1 funds,” Stoddard said. “The voters thought they were voting for Amendment 1 funds for endangered-land acquisition. You look what they are actually doing with the money and they are using it for maintenance programs … for water systems, for paying off debt services for the water-mmanagement district, … It’s not what we thought we were voting for.

“We thought we were voting to acquire the lands to restore the Everglades and pick up endangered wetlands. The Legislature said, ‘No, we have enough land already, let’s use it to take care of what we have.’ ”

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