Nicholas Pabon, Herald-Tribune, July 9, 2019

Rising sea levels will create the need for more than $3 billion in new sea walls in Sarasota and Manatee counties by 2040, according to a new report that highlights the fiscal threat climate change poses to Southwest Florida.

The data compiled by the Center for Climate Integrity, an environmental activist group, raises questions about how communities will afford the enormous costs of climate change.

As a low-lying peninsula, Florida is especially susceptible to the effects of rising seas. Florida has more coastline than any state other than Alaska, and armoring much of it to protect against sea level rise will be hugely expensive, costing roughly $76 billion statewide by 2040, according to the report.

Florida’s price tag for sea wall construction is nearly double the cost faced by Louisiana, the state that will need the next-highest amount of coastal armoring by 2040.

Those expenses — which will be spread among private individuals seeking to protect their own properties and local governments trying to safeguard public infrastructure — will be difficult for communities to absorb.

“The real question here is … what are we going to do with the very small communities that have very large costs? How are we going to pay for that and who’s going to make those decisions?” asked Paul Chinowsky, one of the lead scientists who worked on the report and the CEO of Resilient Analytics, the firm that analyzed the data for the report.

The authors’ uncertainty is shared by Manatee County energy and property manager Diana Robinson.

“We probably don’t have the funding at the moment to take care of it. … I don’t think any city has those resources,” she said.

The Center for Climate Integrity estimates upward of $2 billion worth of sea walls will be needed in Manatee County alone by 2040.

While much of that cost will be borne by private property owners, local governments will incur significant expenses to protect roads and other infrastructure. Things aren’t much better for Sarasota County, where the cost of new sea walls is estimated to be roughly $1.2 billion.

Longboat Key Town Manager Tom Harmer said smaller communities will need help combating sea level rise.

“I am concerned about the funding that’s out there because it can be significant for a small coastal community,” Harmer said. “I think communities like Longboat Key are going to need assistance in our planning and infrastructure improvements.”

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