Commissioners Take Practical Approach To Sea Level Change
By Michael Lewis
Miami-Dade commissioners last week took an environmentally and politically wise course in establishing a Sea Level Rise Task Force of six experts to determine potential impact of sea level change on the county and what we should do to prepare.
It was environmentally wise because we are already feeling impact of sea level rises in the form of seasonal flooding on the streets of Miami Beach and other communities. Whatever we might expect in the future, that unwelcome impact is already here.
It was politically wise because the measureÕs sponsor, Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa, included in revised legislation as a task force member Clerk of Courts Harvey Ruvin, an experienced political hand, a former commissioner who also has spearheaded environmental studies nationally and can deftly negotiate governmentÕs minefields to turn recommendations into action.
Commissioner Sosa also revised her measure in a way that satisfies our earlier serious concerns that the study team would be tied to too short a leash to be effective. We had written that rules that would have killed the task force after 220 days left far too little time for serious study and action.
Ms. Sosa has revised the measure to the version that passed, which gave the task force 364 days. And she explains that the task forceÕs life could be extended from there, 364 days at a time, since no county task force may exist more than 364 days without being given added life.
Under the revised legislation, Mr. Ruvin will screen all applicants for the task force to insure that theyÕre qualified Ð and qualifications in the legislation are quite specific.
One member is required to have expertise in civil engineering with a focus on infrastructure.
Another has to be an expert in “community and real estate development.Ó
A third must be expert in one or more specialties that include climatology, geophysics, coastal management, oceanography and ocean science Ð which shouldnÕt be hard to find, given that the University of MiamiÕs globally renowned Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science sits right on Virginia Key.
Another member must have expertise in emergency management.
And the final member needs to be an expert in economics.
The legislation also states what should be routine but often isnÕt: all appointees must have “reputations for integrity and community service.Ó What other kind of a county appointee should we expect?
The next step is naming the team itself. WeÕd hope to see a range of viewpoints, from those justly concerned about sea level impacts to those who might have reservations about their true severity.
WeÕd also hope that the final recommendations would be both realistic and specific to our community. We donÕt need broad scientific feedback but narrow, practical recommendations as to what this county could do given its finite economic and other resources.
ItÕs a certainty that we could never afford to prepare for every low percentage risk that has an incredibly high cost if that unlikely risk comes to pass.
In other words, we should look at both need and probability. If sea levels were to rise 25 feet in a decade there would be no South Florida, but how likely is that to come to pass and what is the cost of preparation Ð probably infinite.
The commission has taken a good first step in deciding that it canÕt govern without authoritative input. It has structured wisely.