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Making Tampa Bay more resilient to sea level rise and flooding will cost billions, report says

A photograph of downtown Tampa from the air.
Courtesy Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council
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While making these changes comes with a hefty price tag, there is opportunity for economic growth, leaders say.

The Tampa Bay region needs to spend $13.4 billion over the next 25 years to beef up its resiliency as sea level rises, according to a new report.

Leaders shared a report on the economic implications of flooding and sea level rise for the area at the Tampa Bay Regional Resiliency Leadership summit Tuesday.

The document recommends communities seek resiliency upgrades such as elevating structures and beach nourishment.

But it also suggests the region use sea level rise and flooding analysis when making decisions on land use and infrastructure, as well as incentivize building in lower risk areas.

While making these changes comes with a hefty price tag, there is opportunity for economic growth, says Alec Bogdanoff, principal and co-founder of Brizaga, an engineering consulting company.

"There's a compelling case to make investment in resilience now,” he said. “The benefit cost ratio is pretty significant.”

“It's $2.27 to every dollar invested for the adaptation strategies we looked at. But what's pretty amazing is when you start digging into specific adaptation strategies for specific communities and specific projects, you can actually raise that cost benefit significantly."

If these suggestions are implemented, the region could create an additional 26,410 job years through 2024, or one year of work for an individual, and another 16,690 job hours from 2045 through 2049.

Bogdanoff said paying for these resiliency measures will take both public and private investment.

For example, he said, a lot of the area’s shoreline is owned by private individuals who will have to invest in protection like sea walls and other mitigation efforts.

The adaptations would also significantly reduce projected losses to homes and other properties, sales, tourism, and property taxes, according to the report.

And not doing anything could be even more expensive than making these fixes, said Tampa Bay Rays President Brian Auld, who also serves as chair of the Tampa Bay Partnership Resilience Task Force.

“If we don’t spend $13.4 billion, then we’re going to have a $50 billion bill coming due real soon,” he said.

The partnership’s report isn’t about setting global policy, Auld added.

“This is about what our region needs to do to be ready for what is going to be inevitably devastating results of sea level rise.”

Prioritizing social equity in planning and responding to disasters also needs to be a key feature in implementing change, said Anne deBoer, manager of sustainable economics for the engineering firm AECOM.

“The literature on natural hazards impacts demonstrates higher income households are just better equipped to address the shocks once they occur compared to lower income households, and that they can exacerbate economic and racial disparities.”

Local outreach, engagement, and prioritizing projects in poorer areas are essential in making sure resilience planning is equitable, she added.

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Bailey LeFever