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Tampa Bay local governments join to combat climate change effects

Studies have shown that the Tampa Bay region is among the most vulnerable in the country to the effects of climate change. [JIM DAMASKE   |   Times (2016)].
Studies have shown that the Tampa Bay region is among the most vulnerable in the country to the effects of climate change. [JIM DAMASKE | Times (2016)].
Published Oct. 5, 2018

After nearly 10 months of negotiations, local government officials from Citrus County down to Manatee County will gather in St. Petersburg Monday to sign a pact to help each other find ways to cope with sea level rise and climate change.

The pact for the 24-member group, dubbed the Tampa Bay Regional Resiliency Coalition, avoids any discussion about who is causing the earth to warm up and make the seas higher. That might be too controversial.

"We are trying to stay away from the political debate over the cause of sea level rise and climate change," Sean Sullivan, executive director of the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, said Friday. "But we just had the warmest September on record here and the question is, 'How are you going to address that?'"

RELATED: Florida in the crosshairs of climate change.

Instead, the focus is on adapting to or combating the effects, he said. That might include building higher seawalls, raising roads, relocating utilities or implementing new building codes. And by working together, the members will be eligible for state and federal grant money, he said.

The first step is to determine "what areas are most vulnerable to sea level rise and climate change," Sullivan said.

The coalition would include Citrus, Hernando, Pasco, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee and Sarasota counties and dozens of city governments. That area of 5,000 square miles is occupied by 3.5 million people, Sullivan said.

"We are clearly a force to be reckoned with," he said.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Florida's algae bloom crisis fueled by climate change.

A 2014 federal report labeled the Tampa Bay area as one of three areas in Florida particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels, with the others being Miami and Apalachicola.

The report, the Third National Climate Assessment, also warned that climate change would drive increases in harmful algae blooms off Florida's coast, worsening seasonal allergies for people already made miserable by springtime pollen and heavier rainstorms and flooding in low-lying areas

An insurance industry group has ranked the Tampa Bay region as the most vulnerable metropolitan area in the United States to storm surge, with $175 billion in potential losses.

RELATED: Climate change ban boosts Florida's image as Punchline State.

The Tampa Bay pact is modeled on the South Florida Regional Climate Change Compact, formed in 2010 by Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe, and Palm Beach counties and including 35 local governments.

A state law that took effect in 2015 requires coastal Florida governments to address sea level rise and future flood risks in new ways.

But Gov. Rick Scott has questioned whether climate change exists and, according to some former state employees, banned use of the term. Scott has denied the ban exists.

Contact Craig Pittman at craig@tampabay.com. Follow @craigtimes

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