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It’s time to address climate stress

Sean Sullivan

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Sunset over St. Pete. Photo by Mark Parker.

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The Tampa Bay area is one of the nation’s most at-risk regions for flooding, sea level rise and extreme weather events.

That’s why the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council’s third annual Resiliency Leadership Summit is so important. The Summit, set for May 4 and 5 at the Clearwater Beach Hilton Resort, will discuss how we can address these challenges. We’ll talk about everything from mitigating the rising cost of insurance in Florida to addressing the long-term future of our infrastructure.

It’s easy to be complacent, as we watch the area’s home prices and economy defy many of the nation’s challenging economic trends. But consider the long-term future: If we don’t address the impacts of sea level rise and extreme weather, we could see the potential of as much as $7.5 billion in taxable property losses from adverse weather events by 2060.

Also, consider the impact of the Tampa Bay area’s growing number of days over 90 degrees, which shortens the timeframe for fixing roads from 20 years to 14-16 years. Our water infrastructure will also be negatively impacted: Saltwater intrusion will increase costs of potable water treatment, while sea level rise may submerge sewage and stormwater drains, negatively impacting our waters.

Taken together, climate stressors have the potential to significantly hurt our region’s economy. Under current models, the Tampa Bay region may face the loss of as much as $4.5 billion a year in gross regional product by 2060 if policies do not change.

The panels at this year’s summit will explore such topics as bolstering our investments in resiliency efforts, making the region’s economies more resilient; integrating insurability into our conversations; and addressing the region’s transportation infrastructure. Panelists will discuss how they are financing resiliency efforts, where they are seeing potential innovations, and what opportunities for state funding exist that could help meet the task at hand.

Industry, infrastructure, and economic health are critical for the region, but affordable housing for our workforce is just as important. It’s well documented how Tampa Bay area home prices and rents are rising far faster than inflation, but it’s important to also note the impact of higher insurance premiums on affordability. Recent indicators from the Insurance Information Institute suggest that Florida homeowner insurance rates are expected to increase by 40 percent this year. Panelists will discuss the challenges of insurance in the region and talk about possible solutions.

As we seek solutions to make housing affordable, we must also get people back and forth to work. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to adapt our transportation systems to address rising seas, flooding or other climate impacts. This year we are hosting transportation planners to talk about balancing the need to plan for flood impacts alongside priorities of traffic reduction, emission reduction, and accessibility.

The time to plan is now, and with the rollout of the Regional Resiliency Action Plan last fall, our region is taking significant first steps. The Plan, created by the Tampa Bay Regional Resiliency Coalition, is a resource for local governments as they implement policies to help communities become more resilient to flooding, storm surge, sea level rise, and extreme weather events.

We encourage area leaders and residents to attend the Summit, as we look to continue our progress in a meaningful way.

Sean Sullivan is executive director of the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council.

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