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In face of rising seas, Monroe County adapts, innovates

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Friday, November 3, 2023   

By Steve MacLaughlin for NBC Miami.
Broadcast version by Trimmel Gomes for Florida News Connection reporting for the Solutions Journalism Network-Public News Service Collaboration


After Hurricane Irma, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity allocated $15 million to the Monroe County Voluntary Home Buyout Program. It allows the county to purchase land from homeowners affected by Hurricane Irma, demolish the structures and let the land remain an open space that can accommodate the rising ocean.

Monroe County has an all-in approach: Adaptation with projects like raising roads and managed retreat with projects like home buyouts.

"When you're looking at a foot of sea level rise in the next 20 years by the year 2045 and then another foot beyond that by the year 2060, we can't stop the water from coming in, that's a given," Chief Resilience Officer Rhonda Haag explained. "So we're gonna lose low-lying areas, we're gonna lose parts of islands, that's a given, but we can modify our existence here with money to be able to stay here in most of the areas of the keys at least for the next 25 years. That's why we did this road elevation plan. We needed to have a sound plan to determine which of those areas should we focus our resources on and which of those areas might have to be different and accommodate the rising waters as they come in."

Monroe County is also looking at development in areas that were destroyed by Irma but are not expected to be inundated between now and 2045. They will build code-compliant, elevated homes to be occupied by the low to moderate-income workers that were forced to leave after Irma.

Adaptation is 100% necessary. Mitigation is 100% necessary. But managed retreat must also be a part of any serious solutions discussion.

According to A.R. Siders, "People often shy away from talking about managed retreat because it's a conversation about loss and that's a really difficult conversation, but not having that conversation doesn't mean that the risk goes away."

"Retreat is not defeat," Andrea Dutton concluded. "If we retreat from the coastlines, then we are keeping ourselves safe from the rising seas and removing ourselves from that vulnerable position."


Steve MacLaughlin wrote this article for NBC Miami.


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