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  1. Opinion

Tampa Bay communities prioritize resiliency

Floodwaters from Hurricane Florence inundate a neighborhood in Socastee, S.C., Sept. 29, 2018. Experts say the Tampa Bay area could lose $175 billion as a result of storm surge flooding from a similar major hurricane. (Victor J. Blue/The New York Times)
Floodwaters from Hurricane Florence inundate a neighborhood in Socastee, S.C., Sept. 29, 2018. Experts say the Tampa Bay area could lose $175 billion as a result of storm surge flooding from a similar major hurricane. (Victor J. Blue/The New York Times)
Published Oct. 8, 2018

Special to the Tampa Bay Times

Monday marks a historic and important milestone for the Tampa Bay region. Five counties and 17 cities will sign a document reflecting their commitment to form the Tampa Bay Regional Resiliency Coalition.

This initiative, led by the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, will increase sharing of knowledge and planning across county and city governments, agencies and other stakeholders in the businesses community, and civic organizations as we develop a regional resiliency plan. It's an important step for our region, enabling local governments to better collaborate to make our communities more prepared for threats such as sea level rise, hurricanes and flooding.

Last year, the Tampa-St.Petersburg-Clearwater metro area's economy ranked second in the state and 24th in the nation, with an output of $148.6 billion, according to an annual report for the U.S. Conference of Mayors. But the Tampa Bay area could lose $175 billion as a result of storm surge flooding from a major hurricane, according to Boston-based firm Karen Clark and Co. In 2015, the firm ranked the Tampa/St. Petersburg metropolitan area as the most vulnerable in the country to hurricane storm surge. That same year, the Tampa Bay Climate Science Advisory Panel estimated that sea levels in Tampa Bay could rise nearly two feet by 2100.

Major flooding events are already affecting local governments, businesses and residents in our communities. In fact, revenues to local governments are at risk from sea level rise. The Union of Concerned Scientists analyzed Zillow data and sea level rise scenarios and found that by the end of the century, nearly 100 ZIP code areas in Florida, including much of the greater Miami and Tampa-St. Petersburg areas, could see 40 percent or more of their current property tax base affected.

The good news is that counties and cities in the Tampa Bay region have been conducting vulnerability assessments, revising their hazard plans and taking other actions to address flooding, hurricanes and other hazards. The regional planning council has coordinated resiliency planning initiatives such as the ONE BAY Resilient Communities working group, and workshops on hurricane preparedness, flood risks, mapping and other hazards. However, the growing challenges and risks require an increasing level of regional collaboration to support our communities' economic, environmental and social health.

By bringing governments and stakeholders together, we can define and implement innovative solutions that will enhance our communities. The very definition of resilience is the ability to absorb or avoid damage without suffering complete failure.

The coalition has a steering committee comprised of elected officials, and a technical advisory committee, which includes scientific and technical staff from local governments and regional, state and federal agencies. The coalition will also engage stakeholder organizations as Resiliency Coalition Partners. These organizations and business groups will bring additional perspectives and expertise on interconnected topics such as energy security, business disruptions, affordable housing and public health impacts. This will enhance our efforts at working with local communities to increase awareness and participation.

We are building on lessons learned and success stories from other collaborative models inside and outside Florida, such as the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact. Initiated a decade ago, the Southeast Compact enabled cities and counties to define their priorities and challenges, participate in an annual climate leadership summit, and implement a range of solutions to make their communities more resilient. Like the compact, the Tampa Bay Regional Resiliency Coalition will enhance our individual and collective understanding of changing risks and new best practices for improving resiliency. The coalition efforts will enhance our competitiveness and ability to secure increased levels of federal funding that support resilient adaptation and mitigation programs that protect our communities, infrastructure and economies.

From world-famous beaches and crystal clear springs to thriving downtowns and charming neighborhoods, our communities have much to offer residents and visitors. As Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long, who chairs the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council and initiated the coalition, often says, "In the Tampa Bay Region we truly live in paradise, and living in paradise comes with great responsibility to protect that paradise we all treasure."

Through the new Regional Resiliency Coalition, we will be better positioned to ensure that the Tampa Bay region remains the paradise we know and treasure.

Sean Sullivan is the executive director of the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council.

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