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SWFL pulling together to confront climate concerns

By Staff | Jul 23, 2019

James Evans

With discussions on climate change, sea level rise and coastal resiliency gaining steam, Southwest Florida municipalities are following the lead of other regions in the state to try and address the issues.

Last fall, Dr. Michael Savarese, a professor of marine science and environmental studies with Florida Gulf Coast University’s Department of Marine and Ecological Sciences, reached out to several representatives from governments in Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties about meeting to discuss the impact of climate change and see if there was interest in a unified approach to coastal resiliency.

Sanibel Natural Resources Director James Evans explained that the initial meeting led to more gatherings as the various entities voiced support. Called the Southwest Florida Regional Resiliency Compact, members in the group recently drafted the group’s mission and what it will focus on.

“We had a memorandum of understanding (MOU) subcommittee meeting in June and we finalized the MOU,” he said, adding that the draft has since been sent out to all of the cities and counties that have been involved in discussions about the compact.

Evans explained that the aim of the compact is to unite area counties and municipalities.

“It’s getting together for a consistent regional approach to address the impacts of climate change and advance local and regional responses,” he said. “We would be getting everybody together to get on the same page as we develop resiliency plans and strategies to mitigate the impacts of climate change and sea level rise.”

“We would be looking at this from a regional approach,” Evans added.

Along with the city of Sanibel, all of the municipalities in Lee County and Lee County have been involved in the discussions, as well as the governmental entities located to the north and south.

“Everybody in Charlotte and Collier also,” he said.

The formation of a regional group to address the subject is not new.

“It’s similar to what they did in Southeast Florida,” Evans said, noting that central and east central Florida have created one and that he believed Tampa and the Pinellas County area did as well.

“Southeast Florida was kind of out front on these issues,” he added. “It’s been successful in being able to organize those communities over there to get grants and do projects that make their communities more resilient.”

And that is the other benefit to a regional compact, Evans explained. It will allow for the partner entities to consolidate resources, work together on regional modeling and more, plus open the door to state and federal funds to help implement and support resiliency initiatives for the communities.

In terms of Sanibel, he noted that the city is a coastal barrier island.

“Sea level rise – it’s happening,” Evans said, adding that ocean waters are rising an average of 3 millimeters per year. “Obviously, we need to be prepared for future impacts of sea level rise.”

Last month, the city completed a coastal resiliency study in partnership with FGCU that looked at the impacts of sea level rise on the island, specifically Sanibel’s vulnerability to rising waters and increased storminess, and which sectors in the community were the most vulnerable as a result of those impacts.

“We take it very seriously and we think it’s important that we work regionally to address these issues,” he said. “We have some real opportunities to adopt some policies and implement projects that will help our community be more resilient.”

As for the draft MOU, Evans explained that it outlines the goals of the compact.

“It lays out things that we would be coordinating on, issues that we would be focused on,” he said, citing climate change and sea level rise as the main focuses identified in the finalized language.

The next big step will take place in October.

“There will be a meeting of city and county leaders to discuss the compact,” Evans said. “So that we can have a robust discussion about this issue.”

Following any adjustments to the MOU, participation in the compact will be presented to the voting boards for each of the entities – like the Sanibel City Council – for consideration and approval.

“We anticipate that will be sometime this fall,” he said.