Local Leaders Grapple With Rising Seas
June 10, 2016
By: Katie Egan
Concerns of the futures of Florida’s coastlines aren’t going away, especially if the coast does.
The desire to solve the problem is there. But the funds are going to have to come from someone.
Representatives from the Harvard Project from the Harvard Graduate School of Design spoke Wednesday on climate change and the impact of rising sea levels Southwest Florida at the Naples Botanical Garden.
The goal of the introductory workshop, said project architect, professor and urbanist, Charles Waldheim, is to frame the conversation and develop a solution.
According to a project memo from March, the total cost of the project would be $250,000.
Waldheim and the project’s leader and Naples resident, Nader Ardalan, previously studied the impact of rising sea levels, storms and climate change near Miami.
Some representatives from the east coast attended the workshop along with about two-dozen business leaders, scientists, environmentalists and officials from Collier County, the city of Naples, Marco Island and Everglades City.
“We cannot put this off,” said Collier County Commission chairwoman, Donna Fiala. “I think everybody wants to put this off because they know the sea level isn’t rising next week or even next year.”
Someone needs to come up with a plan.
“How do you eat an elephant?” Fiala asked. “One bite at a time.”
“So that eventually when these things happen, and they’re going to continue to happen very slowly so we don’t even notice them,” she said. “When it’s all done, we’re going to have a plan in place.”
Naples City Councilwoman, Linda Penniman, thinks there needs to be a reasoned and reasonable approach to land use, land-use ecology, infrastructure and tourism.
“What none of us wants is something that could endanger the welfare of our citizens and I think we need a no regrets strategy,” she said.
Penniman called for data on the near-term effects of sea level rise on the coastal infrastructure in the area and the long-term effects up to 2075.
“We need data to characterize the vulnerabilities and the legal framework and structure to address those,” she said. “We need to know about the implications to public facilities and where dollars spent make the most impact against the consequences of sea level rise.”
Penniman is concerned with things like the impact of transportation, the effect on drinking water and the potential consequences of surface water intrusion.
“What if we fully embraced sea level rise, what are the economic benefits of doing so,” she asked. “What are the consequences of inaction?”
Attendees agreed that responsibility to fix the problem shouldn’t be blurred across county and city lines.
“Political boundaries don’t play a role in this type of initiative,” said Naples City Manager, Bill Moss. “Different cities will have challenges and they will be separate from Collier County, so my suggestion is to disregard political boundaries.”
Fiala, whose district includes Marco Island and parts of the coastline in East Naples, said she wants to participate financially, but agreed with Moss that the load needs to be shared with other governments.
Typically this kind of work begins with a shared set of answers to a shared set of questions, Waldheim said.
“We’re already deeply committed to this,” he said. “Especially before the next big storm.”
But, he added, “We don’t presuppose to come down here from Cambridge, Massachusetts and have all the answers to the issues you’re dealing with.”
What they are good at, he said, is gathering like-minded people, the best available literature and compiling the best practices.
The Harvard study would take three academic years to finish, and it could begin as early as next summer with a graduate research seminar and a colloquium in Naples to gather local knowledge.
In its second year, advanced students would hold a design studio in Naples to develop sea level rise scenarios and propose long-term solutions for Collier County. Then the Graduate School of Design would hold a colloquium at Harvard to learn from its experts at MIT, lawyers and landscape architects.
According to a preliminary timetable, around the end of 2019 the Harvard team would publish its work and hold a public event in Naples to announce its findings.
While Ardalan ushered attendees out of the room for a group photo, he called the workshop “a historic day.”
Penniman pointed out that “playing defense” against sea level rise is expensive, but “we’re in a position now where we can play offense.”
“Come up with some buckaroos now, folks,” she said. “It’s going to save us some bucks later.”