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Are Florida Politicians Responding To Rising Sea Levels?

Broward County

Throughout the legislative session, we've been bringing questions you asked during the WLRN-Miami Herald Town Hall to legislators in Tallahassee.

Today's question concerns an environmental issue that's threatening coastal communities.

Barry Waterman of Pompano Beach asked about sea level rise:

"Lessons from Hurricane Sandy revealed that municipalities that erected sea wall barriers avoided catastrophic damage," he said. "Has the legislature begun considering similar or any measures to mitigate catastrophic destruction to coastal communities from coming sea level rise?"

The session is almost over, and so far, no legislation has been proposed related to the issue.

But state Sen. Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth says sea level rise is something lawmakers should deal with rather than bicker about.

"We need to move away from that because really at this point it doesn't necessarily matter what's causing sea level rise," he said. "We have to deal with the reality that it's happening."

The Palm Beach County Democrat says lawmakers from South Florida met earlier in the session to discuss the issue and have asked county leaders to come up with a plan to mitigate it.

"Those kinds of decisions are best made at the local level and whatever we can do to then support that plan, I hope that we do, but if we're going to fund it, it's gotta happen this summer," Clemens said.

A Local Leader Responds

Leaders from Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Monroe counties have been working together for years on this problem but could use more help from the state, Broward County Mayor Kristin Jacobs said.

"The planning efforts of the entire state need to come up to par with what the southern part of the state has been doing on its own," Jacobs said. "Think how much farther we could go if we had the full might of the state behind our efforts down here."

The state has stepped up and identified areas where Florida is vulnerable to sea level rise, Jacobs said, but funding has been cut for programs such as beach restoration on both the state and federal level.

Are Sea Walls the Answer?

Both Clemens and Jacobs said that's not a good solution for South Florida, which sits on porous limestone.

"These issues are not going to be solved by simply raising a sea wall," Jacobs said. "The water is coming up underneath. It's coming up through cracks. It will continue to do that. We're not Louisiana. We can't go build a wall and hope to hold the sea back."