WASHINGTON – On Wednesday, Monroe County Commissioner Heather Carruthers testified at the inaugural public meeting of the U.S. House of Representatives’ House Climate Solutions Caucus in Washington, D.C. Her remarks emphasized the reality that many local governments already are being forced to take expensive action to prepare for the negative impacts of sea level rise on their communities and their vital infrastructure.
In her remarks, Carruthers said that to date most of the costs to address necessary adaptation to sea level rise so far have been borne primarily by local governments, whose revenues are directly related to property values. She added these costs are not cheap: “For just two projects we are considering, the costs (to elevate roads to help prevent tidal flooding) could range from about $1 million for a quarter of a mile of road to over $10 million for a mile and a half.”
Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), who represents the Florida Keys, chairs the bi-partisan caucus that quickly has grown to 40 members – 20 Republicans and 20 Democrats. The mission of the Climate Solutions Caucus is to educate members on economically-viable options to reduce climate risk and to explore bipartisan policy options that address the impacts, causes and challenges of our changing climate.
Carruthers also testified about the importance of maintaining the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to protect private properties in flood risk areas. Due to climate change, the flood risk areas no longer are limited to coastal communities.
The meeting at the Rayburn House Office Building took place one day after President Donald Trump sent to Congress his budget plan that includes massive cuts to federal climate efforts.
Carruthers told the caucus that Monroe County is just one of 672 coastal counties in the United States that together account for 46 percent of the national gross domestic product (GDP). “If our coastal counties were their own country, we would be the third largest economy in the world,” she said.
Carruthers concluded: “We have to find a long-term solution for affordable, available flood insurance that is sustainable, and do a much better job of investing in mitigation efforts. Literally, our future depends on it.”
Caucus members who attended Wednesday also included U.S. Representatives Ted Deutch (D-FL, Caucus Co-Chair), Susan Bonamici (D-OR) , Mia Love (R-UT) and Charlie Christ (D-FL). In addition to Carruthers, other panelists included: Dr. George Waldbusser (marine ecologist, Alec Bogdanoff (meteorologist and oceanographer) and Austin Perez (National Realtors Association). Dr. Waldbusser spoke about climate change’s impact on ocean acidification and the negative impacts on shellfish. Carruthers was accompanied by Monroe County Director of Legislative Affairs Lisa Tennyson and Monroe County Sustainability Director Rhonda Haag.
While in Washington, Carruthers and Tennyson also met with representatives of the Department of Interior and the National Parks Service to discuss a path forward on a small grant issued in the 1980s for the County-owned Higgs Beach Park in Key West. This decades-old grant has created a bureaucratic roadblock on Higgs Beach redevelopment plan.
Carruthers and Tennyson explained that the redevelopment plan for Higgs Beach is an expansion and vast improvement on the original park area and further enhances the intention of the original grant. “We are hopeful based on the meeting and response from the representatives that the issue will be resolved,” Tennyson said.