October 25, 2015

Miami Beach's grand experiment to battle rising seas

Climate Time 01 EKM

via @joeflech @jenstaletovich

The sea started boiling up into the street. A major Miami Beach road was under water. Tourists sloshed to hotels through saltwater up to their shins, pants rolled up, suitcases in one hand, shoes in the other.

But one corner of Miami Beach stayed perfectly dry. In Sunset Harbour, which has historically flooded during seasonal high tides, the water was held at bay last month by a radically re-engineered streetscape that will be put to the test again this week with another king tide.

The design — featuring a street and sidewalk perched on an upper tier, 2 ½ feet above the front doors of roadside businesses, and backed by a hulking nearby pump house — represents what one city engineer called "the street of tomorrow."

This foundation for Miami Beach’s future is actually a complicated and expensive experiment: As much as $500 million to install 80 pumps and raise roads and seawalls across the city. A first phase appears to be working, at least for now. But just one year into a massive public works project that could take six more, it’s way too soon to say whether and for how long it can keep the staggeringly valuable real estate of an international tourist mecca dry — especially in the face of sea level rise projections that seem to only get scarier with every new analysis.

"We don’t have a playbook for this," said Betsy Wheaton, assistant building director for environment and sustainability in Miami Beach.

But in many ways, Miami Beach is writing just that — the first engineering manual for adapting South Florida’s urban landscape to rising seas. The entire southern tip of the peninsula tops climate change risk lists but Beach leaders have acted with the most urgency, waiving competitive bidding and approving contracts on an emergency basis to fast-track the work. Tidal flooding lapping at posh shops and the yards of pricey homes makes a persuasive argument that climate change isn’t only real, but a clear and present threat.

More here.

Photo credit: Emily Michot, Miami Herald staff

October 22, 2015

Everglades a model in Jeb Bush's plan for land management



Would a President Jeb Bush finally finish what he started as Gov. Jeb Bush? In a blueprint for how he would manage federal lands, Bush says he would "expedite funding, studies and permitting for water infrastructure, especially water storage projects."

Water storage is key to Everglades restoration and this year became the center of a bitter fight over how the state should spend - or not spend - millions approved by voters to buy sensitive land.

As governor in 2000, Bush helped broker a massive deal with President Bill Clinton to help fix Florida's ailing marshes. The plan, now expected to cost $10 billion, remains mired in politics and bureaucracy. The Everglades is still waiting.

In his blueprint, Bush points to the deal as a shining example of the kind of collaboration he would deploy as president.

"I secured a full and equal partnership with the federal government in restoring the Everglades," Bush writes. "It is the world’s largest intergovernmental watershed restoration effort and the most ambitious ecosystem restoration effort in history. I brought stakeholders, businesses and conservationists together with state and federal agencies, forging a fair and equal coalition to ensure the Everglades would be conserved for generations to come."

The state and feds were supposed to split costs 50-50. But according to its last update, the National Academy of Sciences reported that when budget cuts forced Florida to fall behind on its share, the feds also scaled back spending. This year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded two contracts to begin restoring the Kissimmee River basin and just this month began field tests on pumping water into Everglades National Park. But that's a small fraction of the 60 projects covered by the plan.

Continue reading "Everglades a model in Jeb Bush's plan for land management" »

October 21, 2015

White House taps South Miami mayor for ocean panel



South Miami Mayor Phil Stoddard, a biology professor and possibly the greenest mayor in South Florida, has been appointed to a White House council created to protect and restore oceans and coastal ecosystems.

Stoddard will serve a two-year term on a local government committee, made up of 18 state, local and tribal members from across the country who advise the National Ocean Council. Pres. Barack Obama created the council in 2010 in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon spill to find ways to better protect the nation's waters, including lakes and rivers.

Stoddard, who installed solar panels at his house and offers to give away mosquito-eating fish, has fought for a number of environmental causes, from pushing to make solar energy more accessible in Florida to arguing with Florida Power and Light over leaky cooling canals at Turkey Point. Last year, Stoddard helped make South Miami, a self-designated wildlife sanctuary, off-limits to mosquito spraying to protect the city's endangered butterflies and bats.

October 20, 2015

Five years later, Deepwater Horizon recovery money trickling into Florida


Five years after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, just $170 million for environmental restoration and recreation projects have been approved in Florida out of more than $3.25 billion expected to eventually come to the state.

“The funding really hasn’t begun to flow yet,” Mimi Drew of Florida Department of Environmental Protection told a Florida Senate panel on Tuesday.

But that really starts to change in December when $38 million in additional restoration projects are expected to be finalized. And in 2017, the money will really begin to flow over a period of 15 years, said Drew Bartlett, deputy secretary for ecosystem restoration told the Senate’s Agriculture Committee.

So far projects have included shoreline restoration work and repairing oyster beds. But it has also included recreational projects like building boat ramps, starting a ferry services, and fixing a boardwalk.

State Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, questioned how boat ramps and other funding can qualify for the money when they were not damaged by the spill.

“Obviously the oil spill didn’t damage boat ramps,” Montford said.

But Bartlett said the funding also deals with recreational losses Florida dealt with by people not coming to the state. Boat ramps address the restoration of recreational opportunities in Florida.

Continue reading "Five years later, Deepwater Horizon recovery money trickling into Florida" »

October 18, 2015

Miami-Dade clerk of courts asks South Florida members of Congress to create climate-change fund


Forget that one of Florida's two U.S. senators is running for president and hardly making climate change a priority.

A countywide elected official in Miami-Dade County is asking Republican Marco Rubio and every other South Florida member of Congress -- plus Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson -- to put federal money into the region's efforts to adapt to global warming.

Clerk of Courts Harvey Ruvin wrote a letter last week to Nelson, Rubio and House members from Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties urging the creating of a "Federal Resiliency Superfund" to back "adaptive solutions for the non-debatable, potentially devastating eventuality of Sea Level Rise."

Ruvin, a Democrat in a nonpartisan post and perhaps the longest-serving local politician (he began his political career in 1968 and has been clerk since 1992), led the county's sea-level rise task force. The group produced a report full of recommendations -- including the establishment of an expensive capital plan.

"Our Mayor, Carlos Gimenez, has begun the effort by assembling an impressive team to tackle this trailblazing effort," Ruvin wrote to members of Congress. "A multi-level, intergovernmental funding partnership could ensure success: The need and the opportunity is now.

"I believe that your leadership and positive response will one day be a badge of honor that you and others will look back upon with pride and extraordinary accomplishment."

Read the full text of Ruvin's letter below:

Continue reading "Miami-Dade clerk of courts asks South Florida members of Congress to create climate-change fund" »

September 30, 2015

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson speaks on Senate floor about Miami Beach tide floods

Climate Time 01 EKM


Florida Sen. Bill Nelson was on Miami Beach this week as part of former Vice President Al Gore's climate-change training conference.

The Democratic senator got to experience firsthand how the seasonal king tides flood the city. He showed off enlarged photographs showing water up to pedestrians' ankles.

"This is downtown Miami Beach. You see the fella? It's above his ankles. And he's up on the curb. Right here is the curb. He steps down and it comes up just below his knee. You see the cars. You see the water. That's downtown Miami Beach," Nelson said. "This is not just the phenomenon of the big full moon. This is the phenomenon of sea-level rise."

"Mr. President," he added, addressing Senate President Mitch McConnell, "we can't keep denying what in fact is happening, and the proof's in the pudding, and the proof is right here."


Photo credit: Emily Michot, Miami Herald staff

September 29, 2015

Florida climate crisis mired in politics, Al Gore says

Al2 gore lnew cmg

via @jenstaletovich

Former vice president turned climate change campaigner Al Gore left the political stage more than a decade ago but he remains a vocal critic of how things are done in Washington. And he doesn’t like what he sees, with big money increasingly controlling big decisions.

In a one-on-one interview with the Miami Herald, the one-time Democratic presidential contender whose fate was sealed by hanging chads at a Palm Beach County courthouse aimed his harshest criticism at politicians — most of whom happen to be members of the opposing party — who ignore public will to carry out the wishes of powerful backers. 

For instance, when asked about the fate of a constitutional amendment intended to buy and preserve land that Florida voters overwhelmingly supported last year, Gore chuckled.

“And the Legislature killed it,” he said.

Not exactly, but Florida lawmakers have strangled the intent of the amendment, raiding its funds to pay for a host of other things besides land purchases. Meanwhile, the threat of climate change hasn’t even been raised as a topic during two Republican presidential debates and most of the candidates are pushing for less regulation of industry, calling environmental constraints a brake on economic development. And the governor of Florida, a state that scientists agree is the most vulnerable to rising seas, expresses little interest in even discussing the threat. 

Gore, during a break in a three-day climate science training session in Miami, didn’t go so far as to name names, but he described a political crisis in Florida and around the country.

“Our democracy has been hacked,” he said. “Large contributors call the shots and the politicians who are beholden to them respond to their instructions to jump by asking how high.”

More here.

Photo credit: C.M. Guerrero, el Nuevo Herald

Rare Capitol sight: Gov. Scott outvoted by Cabinet on land vote

A rare sight in Tallahassee: All three Cabinet members outvoted Gov. Rick Scott Tuesday and voted to spend $4 million for a permanent conservation easement on one of the oldest ranches in Central Florida.

The surprise came after Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam outmaneuvered the governor and Attorney General Pam Bondi switched her vote.

The original 12,000-acre Kilbee Ranch in Seminole County, founded by E.H. Kilbee of tiny Geneva, Fla., dates to the 1880s. Today it's surrounded on all sides by intense residential and commercial development, but Kilbee's survivors, including great-granddaughter Diane Gaff, wanted to honor his dying wish to protect the remaining 1,300 acres.

Under Florida's Rural and Family Lands Protection Program, the state and landowners agree on conversation easements that allow the land to remain a working ranch with no allowable private commercial development.

The land program is operated by Putnam's agency. Scott balked. He said the appraisals on the land were too high and that the state should not pay any more than 90 percent of the lowest of two appraisals. Bondi initially sided with Scott, but she changed her mind after Putnam said state policy is to choose a compromise figure between two appraisals.

Gaff said she was "shocked" by Scott's opposition but relieved that Putnam, Bondi and CFO Jeff Atwater agreed to the deal. She said her family could have reaped millions more by selling the land to a private developer.

"That was unbelievable," Eric Draper of Audubon of Florida, which favored the deal, said after the vote. "Putnam did an amazing job of recovering that issue."

The purchase price is $4,095,000, or about $3,200 per acre, with the federal government contributing $1 million of the cost.

Al Gore: How does Florida Gov. Rick Scott not 'notice' Miami climate change risk?

Climate Time 01 EKM

via @jenstaletovich @joeflech

As if on cue, a king tide powered by a supermoon flooded parts of South Florida Sunday and Monday, setting a soggy stage for international forums aimed at drawing attention to the perils of climate change.

In downtown Miami, about 1,200 people gathered to train for a climate corps led by former Vice President Al Gore, who drew mainstream attention to the issue in his 2006 Academy Award-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth. For nearly three hours, Gore walked a crowd that included participants from 80 countries through his now-famous slide show, rebooted with a decade’s worth of new science and data supporting the dire consequences of a warming planet.

Across Biscayne Bay, where climate change has made Miami Beach ground zero for rising seas, the French Embassy hosted another panel in advance of a U.N. summit in Paris in November.

“The scientists have long since told us we have to change,” Gore told the packed room at the Hyatt Regency overlooking the Miami River. “But now Mother Nature is saying it with water in the streets in this city.”

Though Gore largely avoided politics, he accused the state’s power companies of standing in the way of solar power and took a subtle jab at Gov. Rick Scott, whose environmental regulatory agency has tended to avoid using the term “climate change” in official documents. Scott has denied reports that he banned the phrase.

“Miami has an enormous amount at risk,” Gore said as he showed pictures of sunny-day flooding in South Florida during a 2013 king tide. “I just wonder how the governor watches this and says, ‘I don’t notice anything. Do you notice anything?’ Not to make an ad hominem comment, but I’m genuinely curious.”

More here.

Photo credit: Emily Michot, Miami Herald staff

September 24, 2015

Al Gore to speak in Miami Beach about climate change


Former Vice President Al Gore will be open a climate conference Monday in the city perhaps most identified with the threat of rising seas due to global warming: Miami Beach.

Gore, author of An Inconvenient Truth, founded The Climate Reality Project, which organized the three-day "leadership corps training" conference. It will focus on climate issues specific to Florida, including the role the Latino community plays in pushing for actions related to the environment.

The former vice president's presentation, titled "The Climate Crisis and its Solutions," is scheduled for 1:15 p.m. Monday.