The Army Corps of Engineers recently presented a draft plan to the Monroe County Commission — which governs the Florida Keys — that would require the county to use eminent domain to force property owners in areas experiencing sea level rise flooding who don’t want to participate in a buyout program to sell their property.
The Corps’ $3 billion plan, intended to help the Keys to deal with sea level rise flooding, includes projects to elevate homes, critical businesses and buildings, like hospitals and fire houses. Where protecting real estate from floodwaters is prohibitively expensive or not technically possible, the Corps is proposing “retreat” — where the properties would be purchased and demolished.
Corps and county officials hope that most property owners would recognize the problem and voluntarily participate in a buyout program. To prevent the creation of neighborhoods with a checkerboard of demolished properties and inhabited homes, the Corps is proposing that the county be required to use eminent domain to force the remaining residents to sell their properties. The concern is that if residents remain in neighborhoods that flood, the government will still have to provide essential services and flood protection, which are the expenses they’re trying to avoid.
Susan Layton, a Corps chief of planning and policy, told the Miami Herald, “We don’t ever go straight to condemnation. We always start with negotiating and coordinating with homeowners and looking for willing sellers.”
Monroe County Officials are nervous about the prospect of eminent domain. County Mayor Heather Carruthers said she’s disturbed by that part of the Corps’ proposal. “I don’t know if we want to have that conversation now, if that’s a nonstarter for us,” she said.
The Corps will seek input from Keys officials and the public before the draft proposal is finalized in September 2021.
Because of their low elevation and exposure to the seawater on all sides, the Keys are at the front lines in the battle against sea level rise. How it adapts to sea level rise flooding will have an enormous impact on planning in the rest of the country. Buyers, sellers, owners and real estate agents in coastal areas should keep informed about what happens there.