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Miami Rolls Out A Resiliency Plan. It Will Include Overhauling The Aging Stormwater System.

The City of Miami rolled out a resiliency plan Thursday to address sea rise and other impacts from climate change. A plan to overhaul the stormwater system is expected next year.

The city of Miami officially rolled out its plan to fight sea rise and tackle threats from climate change at a rooftop ceremony overlooking Biscayne Bay Thursday.

The plan follows a yearlong effort focused on five critical areas that included flooding, increasing heat and the goal of cutting carbon emissions. That effort led to 86 specific actions, said Resiliency Chief Jane Gilbert — from increasing insurance discounts for flood-weary residents to overhauling the city’s aging stormwater system.

The climate plan takes up a third of the city’s broader strategic plan and tackles unchartered territory, meaning the city is learning as it goes, Gilbert said.

“We are building the train as we are driving it,” she said. Each city department is being assigned duties and will have to report regularly on progress. “Then we’ll update it every year. Many of the actions that we’re putting forward today will inform new actions.”

A major piece of the puzzle will be updating the city’s stormwater system, which is increasingly taxed by higher seas and more flooding. A new plan is expected to be finished by early 2021, she said.

As part of resiliency efforts, the city is working with the National Flood Insurance Program to cut rates for property owners, who already receive a 15 percent discount. Gilbert said efforts are underway to secure 20 percent more.

Even before this resilience strategy was launched, Miami began updating the system’s master plan, converting old maps and charts to digital form. The city also mapped all its sea walls and modeled what changes will be needed to address sea rise over the next 40 to 50 years, Gilbert said.

Some fixes will require concrete flood barriers, while others could include converting areas to wetlands better able to absorb higher water. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is also drafting a plan to deal with storm surge from hurricanes that could include installing massive flood walls and gates across rivers.

The city has already installed 50 gates on flood-control features to prevent seawater from washing back into the system when tides drive up water levels.

As part of the Thursday’s announcement, elected officials promised to clean up existing water blamed for fouling Biscayne Bay, and they've already ordered the city to improve water testing.

“Water quality is an enormous issue, not only in terms of drinking water, but certainly in terms of our bay and the health of our bay, which is a tremendous economic engine," said Mayor Francis Suarez.

Commissioner Ken Russell said he planned to roll out legislative rules over the coming year to protect the waterfront. He also warned that the city needs to tackle its political squabbles that could block progress.

“Is Miami resilient enough to withstand its own political issues?” he said. “We must act as a body to move forward in a positive way, beyond our petty differences, beyond our political differences.” 

Jenny Staletovich is WLRN's Environment Editor. She has been a journalist working in Florida for nearly 20 years. Contact Jenny at jstaletovich@wlrnnews.org
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