Tampa Bay officials have released plans to address climate change

Florida’s sandy beaches and beautiful coastline helped make it the nation’s fastest-growing state last year

An area stretching from Citrus County to Sarasota is home to about 4 million people — about one-fifth of the state’s population. The population of the Tampa Bay metro area has grown by more than 14% in the past decade.

Local governments throughout the Tampa Bay area are acutely aware of the risks associated with many people living near the coast and even inland, where heavy rainfall can cause devastating flooding.

In November, the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council presented a document four years in the making — Regional Resilience Action Plan — aimed at fortifying the region against extreme weather. Now, the council will visit 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, representing local governments in an area stretching from Citrus to Sarasota County, signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate across Tampa Bay to find ways to adapt to the effects of a changing climate.

The coalition has grown over the years to include seven counties and 25 local governments within these counties.

The regional action plan is “our road map for the region, how we work together on resilience and how we advance our priorities established in our initial (memorandum of understanding),” said Cara Woods Serra, chief resilience planner. Planning Council, Dr.

The 72-page action plan is a menu of voluntary options from which local governments can choose based on their budgets, staffing capabilities or geographic location, Serra said.

“We are not trying to tell any of our member governments what to do,” Serra said. “We’re really trying to convene and provide resources and options for them.”

The geographic makeup of member governments will be a big factor in who they decide to work for, Serra said. A move that might work for Pinellas County might not work for more northern counties like Citrus, he said. In Citrus, the county has more inland flooding than somewhere like Pinellas, which means their resiliency needs are different.

The plan is divided into five chapters that outline 10 goals. The first is to make community resilience efforts a top goal for government officials. The plan suggests teaming up with local and national scientists to identify climate change indicators and monitor them. After studying these indicators, governments can start planning for them.

Another goal is to create housing in the region that is not only resilient to extreme weather but also sustainable and affordable. One way to do this locally, the plan says, is to find low-risk areas to build on.

“The Regional Resilience Action Plan is truly the first of its kind in Tampa Bay. This has never been done before,” said Planning Council Executive Director Sean Sullivan.

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Sullivan said the council voted to adopt the plan in November. He wants to take the plan to every local government this year and ask them to adopt it

For some places, resilience efforts aren’t new, Sullivan said.

“We learn from Pinellas County, we learn from Hillsborough County, we see what Pasco County is doing,” Sullivan said. “And we can gather that information together, build it.”

This past hurricane season served as a painful reminder of the inherent risks of living near a coast. Hurricane Ian, a monster Category 4 storm, wiped out homes and businesses in and around Fort Myers and killed more than 140 people. Even Hurricane Nicole, a historically late-season storm, washed away waterfront homes in the Atlantic.

Hurricanes aren’t the only threat officials have in mind. Rising sea levels, dangerous heat, wildfires and drought are part of the picture. In 2022, for example, the city of Tampa had its warmest year on record.

[The worst of Hurricane Ian missed Tampa Bay. What if it hadn’t?]

The plan also cites 11 actions that outline ways the region can collaborate to make a greater impact.

“I think those are the most important things in planning, how we work together,” Serra said.

Strategies include reducing regional flood risk, talking to residents and businesses about the impacts of climate change, and creating local groups that define the best way to improve community health.

Serra said the coalition will continue and add more to their previous working groups that focus on goals such as clean energy and clean coastlines. He hopes the next group will focus on stormwater and infrastructure, looking at how to manage heavy rainfall. and sea level rise.

Sullivan said a city or county adopting the plan is in a better position to apply for state and federal funding to increase their own resilience. The plan encourages governments to assess weather risks in critical infrastructure such as fire stations and weather stations

“Certainly, we are encouraging all of our member governments to conduct a vulnerability assessment, and the state is encouraging it as well,” Serra said.

Governments that wish to apply for Resilient Florida Program grant funds must conduct one of these assessments. Regardless of the money, Serra said, it’s important for communities to identify their vulnerabilities to protect themselves.

“While we don’t want to scare anyone with the plan, we just want people to realize … depending on where you’re building, you may be more vulnerable than other areas in the region,” Sullivan said. “And then how can we help you best prepare to protect your property and, more importantly, protect your life.”

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