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Florida gets another $404 million for climate change prep

Five projects in Pinellas County got funding, as did a project in Hillsborough County and one in Pasco County.
Philippe Park in Safety Harbor is one of five areas in Pinellas County that are to receive funding under Tuesday's announcement. The cost for the one-year Philippe Park Living Shoreline Oyster Reef Wave Attenuation project is estimated at $323,000, and state funding is slated at $129,200.
Philippe Park in Safety Harbor is one of five areas in Pinellas County that are to receive funding under Tuesday's announcement. The cost for the one-year Philippe Park Living Shoreline Oyster Reef Wave Attenuation project is estimated at $323,000, and state funding is slated at $129,200. [ CARL LISCIANDRELLO | TIMES | CARL LISCIANDRELLO | Times ]
Published Feb. 1|Updated Feb. 1

The most vulnerable state in the nation is finally getting a billion-dollar boost to its plans to protect itself against the rising sea, the tip of the trillion-dollar iceberg of climate change expenses the state faces.

On Tuesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced funding for another 113 projects that will install new stormwater pumps and drains in flood-prone cities, convert leaky septic tanks to sewer lines, elevate and floodproof critical buildings and restore wetlands over the next three years.

It’s the largest amount of money for climate change preparation ever seen in Florida — and all $404 million is from the federal American Rescue Plan, the multitrillion-dollar COVID-19 relief act championed by the Biden administration.

Combined with the $270 million three-year funding announced by Florida late last year for 76 similar projects, it’s the most significant investment in resilience in Florida. With local matching funds, the total investment tops $1.2 billion.

“All these projects will enhance Florida’s efforts to mitigate and prepare against flooding,” DeSantis said. “We’re happy to be delivering instead of just talking.”

Related: Flooding will get worse in Tampa Bay. Tropical Storm Eta showed how.

Miami-Dade County alone accounted for $160 million of the pot, with 35 projects funded covering everything from flood- and storm-proofing wastewater treatment plants to raising the banks of canals and building a big new seawall at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens.

“Miami-Dade was the winner,” DeSantis said.

Miami-Dade also scored $55 million to take homes off leaky septic tanks near the Schenley Park neighborhood in Coral Gables, a boost for the county’s new push to get off the failing technology that pollutes Biscayne Bay and is made worse by sea level rise.

Other key projects include a $25 million mobile home wastewater collection project in Pinellas County — the biggest of five the county received — a $40 million stormwater pump station in Jacksonville and $35 million for Islamorada to upgrade its water main.

A notable exclusion from the list of winners was the South Florida Water Management District, which requested more money than any other municipality in the state at $763 million.

Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Shawn Hamilton said the district wasn’t qualified to ask for any of the money in the first place because it was a local government, but it was eligible for the $270 million in grants awarded in December as part of the state’s sea level rise plan.

The district did not receive any funding from that pool, although the St. John’s Water Management District did get five projects funded. In a statement, SFWMD Spokesman Randy Smith confirmed that the district was ineligible for the funds and said it is “excited about the momentum for resiliency efforts in Florida.”

“It’s clear that the state is focused on funding projects that reduce the impacts of flooding and sea level rise to our communities,” he said. “We’re committed to continuing to work with the state to identify various state and federal funding streams for resiliency projects led by the District.”

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Hamilton also confirmed that there will be an additional $20 million in funding announced soon for planning projects — like vulnerability studies of coastal cities to help them figure out which sections will flood first.

DeSantis said he plans to ask the Legislature for another $500 million for resilience projects in his budget this year.

So far, all of these hundreds of millions in funding for climate change projects address the symptoms of climate change, rising tides causing additional flooding, degrading septic and wastewater systems and swamping roads.

When asked by a Miami Herald reporter when the state will address the root cause of climate change, increasing greenhouse gas emissions, DeSantis did not answer the question and instead talked about how the state has long been a target for hurricanes.

“We’re not going to be able to stop being vulnerable,” he said. “We’re going to mitigate what Mother Nature is throwing at us.”

The governor did not use the phrases “sea level rise” or “climate change” in either announcement Tuesday.

The $674 million in state funding announced so far barely scratches the surface of the need for sea level rise adaptation in the state. More than 600 projects were submitted to the initial Resilient Florida grant program, totaling more than $2.3 billion in asks for state money to help with more than $3.8 billion in projects. South Florida alone asked for $1.7 billion of the total $2.3 billion.

Wesley Brooks, the state’s new chief resilience officer, said the state is not done funding these much-needed projects.

“We can and must do more to support resilience priorities for our inland and coastal communities,” he said.

• • •

Here are the projects in Tampa Bay getting money in this round of funding:

Pinellas County

Gulfport Marina Living Shoreline Project-Phase I

  • Sponsor: City of Gulfport
  • Project cost: $350,000
  • Local amount spent: $175,000
  • Statewide funding expected: $175,000
  • Project length: Two years

Living Shoreline and Resiliency Project

  • Sponsor: City of Treasure Island
  • Project cost: $2,300,000
  • Local amount spent: $805,000
  • Statewide funding expected: $1,495,000
  • Project length: Two years

Philippe Park Living Shoreline Oyster Reef Wave Attenuation

  • Sponsor: Pinellas County
  • Project cost: $323,000
  • Local amount spent: $193,800
  • Statewide funding expected: $129,200
  • Project length: One year

Mobile Home Park Wastewater Collection System Improvements

  • Sponsor: Pinellas County Utilities
  • Project cost: $25,000,000
  • Local amount spent: $0
  • Statewide funding expected: $25,000,000
  • Project length: Five years

Utilities Reliability Improvements

  • Sponsor: Pinellas County Utilities
  • Project cost: $10,165,237
  • Local amount spent: $6,729,387
  • Statewide funding expected: $3,435,850
  • Project length: Three years

Pasco County

South Gateway Inundation Park

  • Sponsor: City of New Port Richey
  • Project cost: $1,600,000
  • Local amount spent: $800,000
  • Statewide funding expected: $800,000
  • Project length: Three years

Hillsborough County

Shimberg Park Parcel Flood Mitigation Conceptual Design

  • Sponsor: Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners
  • Project cost: $250,000
  • Local amount spent: $125,000
  • Statewide funding expected: $125,000
  • Project length: Two years

Tampa Bay Times reporter Romy Ellenbogen contributed to this report.

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