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Keys Hospitals Submerged by Climate Change, Legislators Told

They were asked not to politicize the issue. And so far, they've succeeded. State legislators both Dem and GOP from throughout South Florida gathered this week to educate themselves (and the public, who can watch it here) on climate change, its impact on our region and what, if anything, can be done about it. A first step, only, but every journey...The hard part comes later.

Meeting Wednesday evening in Tallahassee, chaired by Rep. Mark Pafford (D-WPB), with staffers from the offices of Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio in attendance, the pols took in reports from experts with the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact. The news was sobering.

"We're not here to tell you we have all the answers," Assistant Palm Beach County Administrator Jon Van Arnam kicked things off. And while the region in and of itself can do little to turn the tide of climate change, he said, "Failure to prepare will leave us vulnerable to sea level rise [and] extreme weather conditions, effecting property values, business prosperity and infrastructure investments."

The sea level rise scenarios, as described in the experts' studies:

-The upper estimate of current taxable property values in Monroe, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties vulnerable in the one-foot scenario is $4 billion with values rising to more than $31 billion at the three-foot scenario.

-Three of Monroe's four hospitals, 65 percent of schools and 71 percent of emergency shelters are located on property at elevations below sea level at the onefoot scenario. Power plant properties in Miami-Dade and Broward as well as energy transmission facilities in Monroe begin to become inundated at the one-foot scenario. While railroads are negligibly impacted, more than 81 miles of roadway from Miami-Dade through Palm Beach are impacted at the one-foot scenario, increasing to more than 893 miles at the three-foot scenario.
As things now stand, the experts stated, "a sea level rise of one foot is projected to occur between 2040 and 2070 with sea level continuing to rise into the future."

The experts have proposed a multi-year plan to address the issue, a massive undertaking that involves designing more sustainable communities, including transportation planning, water supply, agriculture...virtually every aspect of everyday life in South Florida.

How to pay for it, implement it? "There are four delegations here," Sen. Rene Garcia (R-Miami) noted. "We're parochial. What areas need it the most?" "What are the next steps?"asked Sen. Maria Sachs (D-Delray Beach). "What do the engineers, the environmentalists say?"

So there's a ton of questions remaining. But Pafford is hopeful, and as a first step, told New Times, "I intend to forward the meeting packet to the Governor's office and appropriate agriculture and natural resources committees in the House and Senate. I also intend to bring the issue up in committee and on the floor."

Which raises the prospect, and the likelihood certainty, that politics will enter the equation. "I'm hoping to get somebody to acknowledge we have a serious issue in Republican leadership," Pafford said. "Somebody told me that there has never been a formal discussion of this subject in the Capitol. [The Wednesday meeting] was a first."

Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes fatal bite -- covers Palm Beach County. Got feedback or a tip? Contact [email protected].

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