Panel urges county to prepare for climate change
By Lou Ortiz
To ready Miami-Dade County for the effects of climate change, the county should invest in a wide range of actions from high-tech mapping to financing fuel efficient vehicles for cabbies.
Those proposals were among 35 recommendations made by the county's Climate Change Advisory Task Force to county commissioners last week.
The proposals could easily run in the millions of dollars. But the county commission was told that the financial burden on Miami-Dade government that accompany the recommendations will not be known until the 25-member climate advisory panel gathers once again to actually compute the costs.
The proposals to help prepare for climate changes, which include predictions of sea level rises that could inundate the coastline and other parts of the county and wreak havoc on infrastructure and other property, come at a time Miami-Dade has been faced with two successive years of budget cuts.
The county eliminated about 1,000 vacant worker positions in last year's budget and is faced with more than $200 million in red ink this year.
Also hamstringing the county are ambitious plans to build a Florida Marlins stadium and a Port of Miami tunnel, along with $2.9 billion in projects tied to Building Better Communities General Obligation Bond program.
"The most expensive thing that we can do is nothing," Harvey Ruvin, the advisory panel's chairman and county clerk of courts, told commissioners.
Mr. Ruvin added that the advisory panel would "work out a plan of implementation," which would include the costs.
Hal Wanless, who co-chaired the panel's Science Committee, told the commission that because of global warming, sea levels have been rising an average of a foot per century.
Scientists expect another rise of two feet by 2100 and "Miami-Dade would still sort of be here," said Mr. Wanless, a professor and chairman of the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Miami.
"South Florida"s future depends on what happens in the Arctic," he said.
"There is a rapid ice melt and it is expanding. Massive ice blocks are coming out to our oceans."
Mr. Wanless said the warming is a result of a buildup of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and the sea level rises would ultimately affect coastal communities, the county's infrastructure and eastern areas of Miami-Dade.
"We have to get hold of this," he said, "and we may be able to slow the worst part of this. We are the most vulnerable in the United States."
Some of the 35 recommendations that would cost county taxpayers include:
Commissioning detailed maps for the county from calibrated "Light Detection and Ranging" surveys to monitor sea level rises, areas prone to flooding, and the risk to development and infrastructure.
Subsidizing the initial purchase or providing a revolving loan to help county cab drivers buy hybrid or more fuel-efficient vehicles to reduce carbon emissions.
The county designing and constructing facilities to accommodate alternative fuels as Miami-Dade upgrades, modifies or builds new fuel storage facilities.
Requiring the use of biodiesel in all diesel fleet vehicles and equipment in the county.
Implementing a vehicle procurement process that ensures vehicles owned by the county increase their miles per gallon 5% a year.
Increasing the staff in the county's Office of Sustainability so it can be the central Miami-Dade agency for climate change information, monitoring, analysis and benchmarking.
Increasing funding for county land acquisition and management programs.
Buying all undeveloped lands needed for restoration and for mitigation and adaptation to effects of climate change.
Continuing to fund the Agriculture Purchase of Development Rights program to maintain open lands for aquifer recharge, habitat and buffers.
Developing a "vital signs" monitoring program to help track the effects of climate change.
Working with area children's museums and foundations to create and fund educational exhibits on climate change, green technologies and other things.
"We must have the courage to lead," Richard Pettigrew, an attorney and chairman of advisory panel's Greenhouse Gas Reduction Committee and former chairman of Gov. Lawton Chile's Commission on a Sustainable South Florida, told commissioners.
"There are always going to be naysayers," he said. "But the naysayer in this instance are wrong."
Mr. Pettigrew suggested that the county encourage commercial haulers and car rental agencies that do business with Miami-Dade to use bio-fuel in their vehicles.
"All county fleets should be moved to those usages," he said. "If we do that, we can reduce greenhouse gases."
The commission voted to accept the advisory panel's report and to study its recommendations.
"We have to make sure we analyze all the recommendations," said Commissioner Rebeca Sosa, referring to the costs, "to save our environment for future generations."
Commissioner Natacha Seijas agreed. "We've only just begun," she said. "We need to deal with this not with anger but with reality."