FERNANDINA BEACH WEATHER

DeSantis unveils $1 billion, 4-year plan to address rising sea levels

By John Haughey
The Center Square
February 2, 2021

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ $96.6 billion fiscal year 2022 budget request includes $25 million to seed $1 billion in bonds over the next four years as part of a newly created Resilient Florida program.

The proposed Resilient Florida program will “tackle the challenges posed by flooding, intensifying storm events and sea-level rise,” DeSantis said. “We believe that this makes a lot of economic sense” in vying “to get ahead” of rising sea levels that imperil properties along Florida’s 1,350-mile coastline.

At risk, Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Noah Valenstein said last year, are 300,000 Florida homes and $145 billion in taxable property projected to be underwater by 2050.

The Resilient Florida program would be a dramatic expansion of the state’s sea-rise mitigation efforts beyond its Florida Resilient Coastlines Program, which had a $5.5 million annual budget.

DeSantis’ Resilient Florida proposal within his budget request earmarks $25 million for fiscal year 2022, which begins July 1, with the amount increasing until it reaches $100 million by 2025 to finance $1 billion in bond-funded projects.

The money would come from the state’s real-estate documentary tax, which was approved by voters in 2014 to finance conservation efforts.

“Bonding makes common sense for things like investments in resilience and land conservation where future prices are likely to be radically higher than they are today,’’ Audubon Florida Executive Director Julie Wraithmell said. “Locking in today’s costs, even with debt-service payments, ends up being a better deal for taxpayers in the long run on investments that in the future will be radically more expensive or no longer available.”

Resilient Florida projects would include preserving land and building seawalls, as well as improvements to wastewater treatment, water supply, stormwater management, emergency response centers, roads, public housing and public education facilities.

The DEP will manage Resilient Florida, requiring $1.7 million to fund 15 positions, and be assisted by the nonprofit, private Resiliency Florida Financing Corp. in dispersing a target goal of $165.7 million in grants its first year. Priority will be given to governments that secure matching local and federal funds.

DeSantis’ four-year plan to funnel $1 billion into sea-rise infrastructure reflects a 2019 report by the American Flood Coalition (AFC) and Johns Hopkins University that determined a $1 billion investment in such projects would create 40,000 Florida jobs.

“Resilient infrastructure not only helps our communities prepare for the future, it also drives economic growth,” AFC Executive Director Melissa Robert said.

The Resilient Florida program would complement DeSantis’ four-year, $2.5 billion water quality plan. His budget request seeks the third-year $625 million allocation, including $473 million for Everglades restoration, $145 million for “targeted” projects, $50 million for Florida Forever, $50 million for springs restoration, $32 million for infrastructure improvements and $25 million to combat algal blooms and red tide.

“This continued investment in America’s Everglades will not only help build critical water infrastructure that will advance the restoration of a national treasure, but create and save jobs, boost our state’s tourism-based economy and yield tangible benefits for Floridians,” Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg said.

Environmental groups say the $50 million Forever Florida allocation fails to properly implement the 2014 amendment voters approved to boost conservation funding.

“As our state continues to develop rapidly with record increases in home sales and values, we need to be adequately investing in our future by fully funding the Florida Forever conservation programs,” Florida Conservation Voters Government Relations Director Lindsay Cross said. “Those funds are based on documentary stamp revenues which have increased by $61 million this year, ensuring we can return to historic funding levels of $300 million for Florida Forever – but only if our legislators finally enact the will of the people.”

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