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Broward Leaders Are Worried About How To Pay For Sea-Level Rise

Tidal flooding along Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale. Scientists say as seas continue to rise, the frequency of flooding on otherwise dry days will increase.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Sea-level rise is going to cost Broward County -- and leaders don't know yet how they're going to pay.

A roundtable meeting in Davie on Thursday brought together more than 40 elected officials, city staff and business leaders from across Broward. Many expressed concern over a lack of funding for sea-level rise adaptation projects.

Ron Wallace, the city engineer for Parkland, said he's concerned about drainage in South Florida's current system, which moves water from west to east.

"If we're in the western communities, we have to wait for the flooding in the eastern communities to drain first," Wallace said. "So what funding is available to help with assuring that these areas that are landlocked have the opportunity to drain?"

The county can't offer any funding right now, said Broward Mayor Beam Furr. In 2016, voters nixed a proposed penny sales tax to address traffic and infrastructure challenges. Nine percent of the proceeds would have gone to water, sewer and stormwater projects, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

But the bigger challenge for Broward -- and the rest of South Florida -- is a lack of state and federal dollars for adaptation efforts.

Read more: Kids Are Suing Gov. Rick Scott To Force Florida To Take Action On Climate Change

County leaders including Furr and chief resilience officer Jennifer Jurado said that in the absence of significant funding from the state and federal government, the county is creating tools to help cities address the growing sea-level rise threat. Broward has approved an update to its flood map, which will make the map more comprehensive than flood maps used by the federal government. The federal flood maps  currently do not factor in sea-level rise.

"What we're trying to do is give the background knowledge where cities can start to look at what they can do now," Furr said. "They can start with small scale stuff... and start to look at how do you protect your bigger assets."

Beyond the threat of flooding, leaders in Broward and throughout South Florida are worried rising seas could spell trouble for the real estate market that helps drive the region's economy. The fear is that once the federal government does begin factoring sea-level rise into its maps, insurance prices will increase, raising costs to businesses and homeowners, and scaring away investors.

The change to federal maps  could happen as soon as 2020, Jurado told the group.

Jennifer Jurado, Broward's chief resilience officer, talks to city officials from throughout Broward County at a roundtable on Thursday.
Credit Kate Stein / WLRN
The Florida Channel
Jennifer Jurado, Broward's chief resilience officer, talks to city officials from throughout Broward County at a roundtable on Thursday.

"We know that's critical to us," she said. Banks and investors look at insurance rates when they're deciding whether to approve loans and fund projects. High insurance rates will suggest it's risky to put money into South Florida.

But, Jurado emphasized, the agencies that guide investors, insurers and banks do take into account efforts communities make to reduce the risk from sea-level rise.

"We're going to need to be able to respond with projects," she said.

Read more: Is South Florida Doomed By Sea-Level Rise? Experts Say No. In Fact, They're Optimistic

Throughout South Florida, efforts are underway to address rising seas. Furr, the Broward mayor, said that it's important that cities and counties continue to work together.

If the federal government does begin to offer more funding to address sea-level rise, he said, South Florida communities will be more likely to receive it if they have a comprehensive, collaborative plan.

"Because soon, people that rate bonds and those things, they're going to come to us and ask, 'what is your strategy?'" he said. "It's all of our problem. It's every city. It's the entire county."

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Kate Stein can't quite explain what attracts her to South Florida. It's more than just the warm weather (although this Wisconsin native and Northwestern University graduate definitely appreciates the South Florida sunshine). It has a lot to do with being able to travel from the Everglades to Little Havana to Brickell without turning off 8th Street. It's also related to Stein's fantastic coworkers, whom she first got to know during a winter 2016 internship.Officially, Stein is WLRN's environment, data and transportation journalist. Privately, she uses her job as an excuse to rove around South Florida searching for stories à la Carl Hiaasen and Edna Buchanan. Regardless, Stein speaks Spanish and is always thrilled to run, explore and read.