Florida’s sandy beaches and beautiful coastline helped make it the fastest growing state in the country last year.
About 4 million people live in the area from Citrus County to Sarasota — about a fifth of the state’s population. The population of the Tampa Bay metro area has swelled by more than 14% over the past decade.
Local governments throughout the Tampa Bay area are acutely aware of the risks involved for many people living near the coast and even inland, where heavy rains can cause devastating flooding.
In November, the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Board introduced a four-year-in-progress document—the Regional Resilience Action Plan—aimed at fortifying the area against severe weather. Now, the council will tour the region in the new year and ask governments to adopt the plan.
[Flooding will get worse in Tampa Bay. Tropical Storm Eta showed how.]
The plan has been in the works since the creation of the Tampa Bay Resilience Coalition in 2018. Each of the 32 members, who represent local governments in the region stretching from Citrus counties to Sarasota counties, have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to collaborate across Tampa Bay in order to find ways to adapt to the effects of climate change. the climate.
The alliance has grown over the years to include seven provinces and 25 local governments within those provinces.
The Regional Action Plan “is kind of our roadmap for the region, how we work together on resilience and how we move our priorities that we set out in our initial (MOU),” Kara Woods-Sera, lead resilience planner for the Planning Board.
Serra said the 72-page action plan is a list of voluntary options that local governments can choose from based on their budget, staff capacity or geographic location.
“We’re not trying to tell any of our member governments what to do,” Serra said. “We’re really trying to get together and provide them with resources and options.”
Serra said the geographic makeup of member governments will be a big factor in what they decide will work for them. She said a measure that might work in Pinellas County might not work in a more northern county, like Citrus. In the Citrus, the county has more inland flooding than anywhere like the Pinellas, which means their resilience needs are different.
The plan is divided into five chapters that define 10 goals. The first is to make community resilience efforts a higher goal for government officials. This plan proposes collaborating with local and national scientists to identify and monitor indicators of climate change. After studying these indicators, governments can start planning for them.
Another goal is to have the region develop housing that is not only able to withstand extreme weather but is also sustainable and affordable. One way to do this locally, the plan says, is to find areas that are less dangerous to build on.
“The Regional Resilience Action Plan is truly the first of its kind in Tampa Bay. This hasn’t been done before,” said Sean Sullivan, executive director of the Planning Council.
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Sullivan said the board voted to adopt the plan in November. He intends to take the plan to every local government this year and ask them to adopt it.
Resilience efforts are not new in some places, Sullivan said.
“We’ve learned from Pinellas County, we’ve learned from Hillsboro County, and we’re seeing what Pasco County is doing,” Sullivan said. “And we can collect that information together, and build on that.”
This past hurricane season was a harrowing reminder of the inherent dangers that come with living near the coast. Hurricane Ian, a brutal Category 4 storm, destroyed homes and businesses in and around Fort Myers and killed more than 140 people. Even Hurricane Nicole, a historic late-season storm, swept waterfront homes into the Atlantic Ocean.
Hurricanes are not the only threat weighing down officials. Sea level rise, dangerous heat, wildfires and drought are also part of the picture. In 2022, for example, Tampa will have its hottest year on record.
[The worst of Hurricane Ian missed Tampa Bay. What if it hadn’t?]
The plan also notes 11 actions that outline ways in which the district can collaborate to have greater impact.
“I think those are really the most important things in the plan, how we work together,” Serra said.
Among the strategies are reducing regional flood risk, talking to residents and businesses about the effects of climate change and creating local groups that determine the best way forward for community health.
Serra said the coalition will continue previous working groups focused on goals like clean energy and clean beaches, and will add more. She expects the next group to focus on rainwater and infrastructure, which will look at how to manage heavy rainfall sea level rise.
Adopting the plan, Sullivan said, puts the city or county in a better position to apply for state and federal funding to enhance its resilience. The plan encourages governments to assess the risks that weather poses to critical infrastructure, such as fire stations and weather stations.
“We, of course, encourage all of our member governments to do a vulnerability assessment, and the state does,” Serra said.
Governments that wish to apply for Resilient Florida grant funding must take one of these assessments. Regardless of the money, Serra said, it is important for communities to identify their vulnerabilities to protect themselves.
“Although we don’t want to scare anyone with the plan, we just want people to realize… depending on where you build, you might be more vulnerable than other areas in the region,” Sullivan said. “And then how can we help better prepare you to protect your property and, more importantly, really protect your life.”