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Florida Keys News - Islamorada/KL Free Press
Council to mull rising seas response

ISLAMORADA -- The Village Council will consider implementing plans to counter the anticipated impacts of rising seas when it convenes Thursday.

The South Florida sea level has risen 9 inches over the past 100 years, according to the National Weather Service, and the increase has already led to more frequent incidences of flooding along low-lying streets in Key West, Miami Beach and elsewhere.

But the rate of sea level rise, buoyed warming global temperatures, is thought to be growing faster. The Southeast Regional Climate Compact, comprised of Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, projects that sea levels will rise 3 to 7 inches more by 2030, and 9 to 24 inches more by 2060. Even a foot of sea level rise would make 68 percent of the Keys vulnerable to flooding, according to the compact.

Monroe County has already begun to respond to such worrisome forecasts. In November, the county commission passed a 72-point Climate Action Plan, which set guidelines for dealing with everything from renewable energy and infrastructure to ecological systems. Monroe's next step is to prepare models identifying specific areas, facilities and properties that would be vulnerable to higher seas.

The Village Council is now considering taking a page from the county. In January, the council asked the Islamorada Planning Department to devise potential steps the town could take to prepare for higher seas. In a report to be presented Thursday by planner Shane Laakso, he makes no specific recommendation to the council. But the report does spell out the pros and cons of putting together a sea level rise plan.

On the pro side, Laakso notes, having such a plan could help the village prepare more appropriately for flooding as it constructs new infrastructure, thereby extending the life of facilities. In addition, in the absence of a plan, potential risks would not be identified, which could result in future financial losses.

Furthermore, Laakso writes, having a plan in place could lead to flood insurance premium reductions for village property owners. It would also better position the village to win grants related to sea level rise mitigation.

On the con side, writing the plan will require money and staff time and might even mandate the hiring of an additional planner or an outside consultant, Laakso writes. In addition, building facilities with enhanced antiflood designs could drive up infrastructure costs.

In his report, Laakso hints that a "no regrets" mitigation strategy could be a good way to get the process started. The "no regrets" approach is a conservative one and would be implemented incrementally. For example, under the "no regrets" strategy the village could install backflow prevention gates on stormwater facilities to address flooding rather than building a more costly seawall.

Also at the meeting this week, the council is scheduled to take its first formal vote on a stronger towing ordinance. Last month, board members agreed in principal with a push by Councilman Mike Forster to put a stricter cap on towing rates.

rsilk@keysnews.com

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