OLDSMAR — The city at the top of the bay is planning to spend upwards of $125,000 on a climate change plan.
The Oldsmar City Council voted unanimously this month to put a call out to consultants to come up with a rundown of the threats posed by climate change. The document, which the city is calling a “climate resiliency study,” will also include potential solutions to those challenges.
And there are challenges, said Nan Bennett, the city’s director of public works, in an interview.
“High water is our highest vulnerability, whether that’s flooding or storm surge or sea level rise,” Bennett said.
A map from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that projects sea level rise onto coastal communities shows parts of southern Oldsmar threatened by water after just 1 foot of sea level rise. A recent series of projections by scientists with the Tampa Bay Climate Science Advisory Panel showed that the region as a whole is likely to see between 1.9 and 8.5 feet of sea level rise by 2100.
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The sea level rise will be caused by climate change, those scientists project. Greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels trap heat in the atmosphere, gradually warming the globe. That warming causes water particles themselves to expand, and polar land ice to melt. Both phenomena lead to sea level rise.
That’s why Oldsmar is taking steps to adjust to a watery future. Ashlee Painter, Oldsmar’s sustainability coordinator, said the city’s plan would cover topics ranging from infrastructure to public health. (A changing climate doesn’t just mean higher seas, it means more extreme heat.)
In the study, officials are also asking for a way to “include climate data in decision making,” according to the October agenda item.
Some of the city’s climate change planning is already underway. Oldsmar’s water reclamation facility on Lafayette Boulevard is just a few hundred yards from Tampa Bay. The city isn’t waiting to hear from a consultant; it’s begun the process of raising the facility’s control building, Bennett said. Hopefully, those efforts will make the building more resilient.
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In the process of formulating a climate change plan, Oldsmar has taken more of a wait-and-see approach. Painter closely watched as other cities — particularly Sarasota — formed their own climate change vulnerability and adaptation plans in recent years. Because it observed other governments, Painter said, Oldsmar now has a better idea what to ask from consultants in a climate assessment.
The city will hear back from potential consultants next month. It’s expected to finalize the $125,000 contract in January.
Once the study is complete, the recommendations won’t automatically become law. But Bennett said the city council is looking for “actionable items” from the study.
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“We live here because we love it, but there are inherent risks with living here,” Bennett said.
Related story: It might be the Pinellas city most threatened by climate change. Here’s what it’s doing to plan.