Challenges Facing Southeast Florida — Ground Zero for Sea Level Rise Flooding — Described in Exhaustive BBC Report

With its low elevation and proximity to lots of water on all sides and underfoot, Southeast Florida is clearly ground zero for sea level rise flooding. The BBC recently published an exhaustive report on the current status of sea level rise in the region — that includes the Florida Keys all the way north through Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach — and the challenges of controlling the inundation. The report makes fascinating required reading for anyone investing in residential and commercial real estate in coastal areas that are threatened by surging tides.

The BBC report, written by Amanda Ruggeri, is full of fascinating facts about sea level rise. Among them:

  1. Current predictions are that sea level could rise by up to 10 inches in the region by 2030 and 5 feet by 2100.
  2. Each additional inch of sea level rise can have a substantial affect on coastal real estate.
  3. The region has more people at risk from sea level rise than any other state, and Miami, specifically, has more financial assets at risk than any other major coastal city in the world.
  4. Cities in the region are already making changes to infrastructure to address sea level rise flooding, including raising roads and seawalls and installing hundreds of tidal valves and pump stations.
  5. Despite the efforts to hold back the sea, experts recognize that they will not be able to save every property and neighborhood from flooding.
  6. Every community faces different challenges. Governments, homeowners, business owners, taxpayers, insurers, developers, engineers and planners are going to have to work together to decide how to address sea level rise in their communities.
  7. Each community is an intricate puzzle where making a change to one piece of infrastructure, such as raising a segment of seawall or roadway, can lead to the unintended flooding of neighboring properties.
  8. Reaching consensus can lead to clashes over proposed solutions, costs, potential impacts and private property rights.
  9. Among the encouraging signs is that in the absence of federal and state leadership, county and local governments are forming regional partnerships to address sea level rise in a coordinated fashion.
  10. Among the discouraging signs is that finding funding sources for the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of projects needed to hold back the rising tides is difficult.

While the BBC report provides a broad, holistic view of how Southeast Florida is tackling sea level rise flooding, real estate buyers, owners and agents still need to invest time and effort evaluating how rising tides are impacting their properties and communities before making decisions. Sea level rise is already resulting in increased property maintenance costs, taxes, insurance and association fees in some areas. It’s also hurting the rate of property value appreciation and forcing extreme measures, such as road abandonment and property buy-outs.

As the polar ice caps continue to melt and the oceans expand due to global warming, these sea level rise is going to challenge more and more coastal residents.

Seizure of Real Estate by Eminent Domain Required in Corps of Engineers’ Draft Proposal for Dealing with Sea Level Rise in the Florida Keys

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.

Can the Florida Keys Afford a Building Boom when They’re Searching for Ways to Retreat from Sea Level Rise Flooding?

Just when a law that’s been on the books since the early 1970s intended to prevent over-development in the Florida Keys is about to prevent new building projects, a state legislator is proposing legislation that could result in a building boom.

According to a Miami Herald article, Representative Rob Rommel, R-Naples, filed an amendment that would increase the hurricane evacuation time for the Keys to 30 hours from the current 24. Under the existing law, the evacuation time limit actually works as a cap on the number of buildings that can be constructed in the Keys. The expectation was that the Keys would be totally built-out by 2023.

According to the article, the new legislation is meant to stave off potentially billions of dollars worth of legal costs if property owners frustrated that they won’t be able to develop their real estate holdings sue the state and county governments for fair compensation.

If the longer evacuation time is approved, officials in the Keys worry that it could result in a building boom that would in turn make it harder for people to evacuate the Keys ahead of a hurricane and make it much more difficult to deal with sea level rise flooding.

County officials in the Keys made headlines last fall when they said sea level rise flooding may force them to abandon roads that are under water for much of the fall king tide season. The problem is so bad that officials there plan to use $20 million in federal funds to buy out and destroy homes wrecked by Hurricane Irma that are vulnerable to sea level rise flooding.

If the Florida state government clears the way for a building boom in the Keys, buyers will have to perform due diligence to ensure the property they intend to purchase isn’t at risk of sea level rise flooding.

Sea Level Rise Reality: No Roads, No Real Estate

Communities from Hawaii to the Florida Keys are already confronting a harsh reality of sea level rise flooding. When flood waters inundate or undermine roads, they have a choice: spend millions or even billions of dollars to save the roads, or abandon them and the real estate that relies on them.

According to a recent report by Mahealani Richardson for HawaiiNewsNow, sea level rise-driven erosion recently caused 1,500 feet of highway to collapse in Haaula, a town on O’ahu. The state is spending $600,000 on emergency repairs, but a permanent solution to save the coastal highway from rising seas could cost up to $1.5 billion for a dozen miles.

Ed Sniffen, a highways administrator, told NewsNow, “It’s a huge but complex situation that we have to consider. Not only are we affecting who can drive through that area in the future, but access to that area in the future.”

Monroe County officials in the Florida Keys are facing the same challenge. According to an article by Theresa Java posted on KeysNews.com, county commissioners there are considering whether to elevate a road in Stillwright Point that flooded 91 days between September and December or abandon it altogether. The road’s fate — and the property owners who rely on it to get around — will depend on how much it will cost to save the road and, considering that seas continue to rise, how much time the repair will buy.

The county’s resiliency officer said a billion dollars probably isn’t enough to save all of the county’s 314 miles of roads. Mayor Heather Carruthers said, “This is the very beginning of very difficult decisions that governments around the world will be forced to make.”

If you search “sea level rise road” on Google, you’ll find dozens of cities and town are confronting the same sea level rise problem. Finding a solution isn’t just a cost-benefit question. Officials also have to consider the decision’s impact on local residents. In some cases, residents have threatened to sue if the government abandons their lifeline roads.

Buyers taking a look at real estate in coastal areas need to consider not only whether or not a property of interest is experiencing sea level rise flooding, they also have to consider how sea level rise flooding is impacting critical infrastructure, such as roads and water and sewer service. The floodwaters could not only prevent them from getting around and receiving critical services, they could also result in a huge tax hike if a community has to initiate projects to save the infrastructure. In a worst case scenario, flooding could force them to move.

Infrastructure issues are discussed in detail in “7 Sea Level Rise Real Estate Questions.”

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