Coastal Real Estate Buyers, Owners & Agents Need to Start Paying Attention to Storm Surge Prevention Projects

A major impact of global warming is stronger storms with more powerful storm surges. Climate change-driven sea level rise will also further magnify the ability of storm surges to inundate valuable real estate.

Cities along the U.S. coast are shifting from considering the threats stronger storm surges pose to local real estate to actually proposing solutions. Real estate buyers and owners need to pay close attention to what’s appearing on the drawing boards. The surge control projects could impact their property values, businesses, tax rates and quality of life.

Real estate agents need to stay current so they’re armed with facts when buyers, sellers and owners ask for the latest information about projects in their farm areas.

In Florida’s Miami-Dade County, ground zero for sea level rise flooding, for example, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently unveiled a draft plan that would spend $4.6 billion on a series of 1-to-13 foot tall sea walls and pumps to protect 2.8 million people and tens of thousands of buildings worth $311 billion from storm surges. According to a Miami Herald article, the project also calls for moveable barriers to be installed at the mouths of three waterways and the elevation of thousands of buildings.

The Corps of Engineers is holding online public hearings regarding storm surge the plan this week. The impact on some property owners could be enormous. For example, a thirteen foot wall and pump stations would certainly change the view from front-line properties. The loss of a beautiful view would impact the quality of life for the owners as well as property values.

In addition, current estimates are that local taxpayers would have to bear up to 35% of the project cost while the federal government would pick up the remainder. Depending on how the project financing is structured, property owners could face substantial tax hikes. (After Covid-19 rocked the economy and government budgets, funding is bound to be a big X-factor even for projects that receive a stamp of approval.)

According to an article on the YaleEnvironment360 website, ambitious storm surge control projects are also being considered in Charleston, SC, Galveston, TX, coastal communities in New Jersey, and in and around New York City. Real estate buyers and owners in coastal areas need to keep up on the latest developments to weigh the benefits and costs of the the proposed projects. Put another way, they need to ask if the projects will protect their property, property value and quality of life without emptying their wallets.

It’s important to note that the storm surge project in Miami-Dade isn’t intended to protect communities from the increased tidal flooding that will occur as sea levels continue to rise in the decades to come. That will take a whole other effort, if it’s possible at all. This is due to the fact that South Florida is built on porous limestone, which allows seawater to easily flow beneath structures such as seawalls. Things are, indeed, getting complicated for coast-dwellers.

Are Miami Area Real Estate Owners Ready for 13-Foot Tall Walls to Control Storm Surge?

How do you protect nearly 3 million residents and $311 billion worth of real estate in and around Miami from more intense storm surges driven by climate change and rising seas? That’s the challenge taken on by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the solution its proposing could have a massive impact on real estate owners.

According to a report in the Miami Herald, the Corps has drafted a proposal that includes 10-to-13-foot high walls, moveable storm surge barriers for canal and river openings, along with the elevation of 10,000 homes and floodproofing of 7,000 buildings. The proposal, due to be formally released this spring, carries an $8 billion price tag, 65% of which would be federally funded. Local governments would pick up the rest of the cost.

Included in the proposal is the purchase of 350 properties through eminent domain to make room for the walls. If the plan is approved, the Corps aims to start construction on the massive project by 2026.

The Corps’ plans could have a major impact on the real estate market in Miami and Miami-Dade County. Some property owners could face the prospect of losing their real estate to eminent domain. Those who remain could see a spike in their property taxes and a loss in property value due to the higher taxes and proximity to flood-control structures. For example, properties that lose their water views to concrete walls could witness a drop in value.

Clearly something has to be done to reduce the threat posed by storm surge driven by climate change and rising seas. To protect their real estate investment and financial futures, buyers, sellers, owners and real estate agents need to get involved when the final details are being hammered out over the next year.

One point to keep in mind is that the Corps’ plan only addresses storm surge, not sea level rise itself. Because South Florida is built on porous rock, seawater can seep under walls.

Another important point that needs to be considered is that Miami and Miami-Dade County aren’t the only coastal real estate markets facing upheaval due to climate change and sea level rise flooding. Cities and towns all along the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf of Mexico coastlines are struggling to draft effective plans to combat rising waters. Coming up with the billions of dollars needed to fund their projects is a whole other problem.

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