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Can the Florida Keys be saved?

Posted on 1 June 2020 by greenman3610

This is a re-post from Yale Climate Connections

Projections point to more than three feet of sea-level rise by 2100, posing deep challenges for one of the U.S.’s most iconic tourist sites – the Florida Keys, where in many places residences, highways, and infrastructure are at less than three feet.

Moreover, those 2100 projections “almost give you a false sense of complacency,” cautions scientist and 2019 MacArthur “genius” fellowship winner Andrea Dutton. She says in this month’s Yale Climate Connections “This Is Not Cool” video that extreme storms affecting the Keys will occur “with increasing frequency as you approach 2100,” and well before that three-foot average rise takes hold.

‘I can see what’s coming, and it’s miserable.’

Dutton expresses concerns that the public may not be “in the right mindset” concerning time projections for rising sea levels. “You can’t just pick up cities and move them,” she says. “There’s going to be some amount of adaptation, there’s going to be some amount of retreat” leading up to the period when that overall three-foot average is, as they say, “the new normal.”

Dutton, for eight years with the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Florida, now continues her research with the University of Wisconsin’s Geoscience Department. “Snow is fun,” she said in a fall 2019 U.W. announcement of her move from sunny Gainesville to often frosty Madison. Explaining to those curious about her move from the Atlantic coast to the Midwest, she said “I look at these sea-level projections all the time. I can see what’s coming, and it’s miserable.”

Dutton is far from alone in expressing concerns about the impacts of sea-level rise for the Florida Keys. For instance, another scientist, Maya Becker, now with Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla California, recalls growing up on Key Biscayne barrier island, just south of Miami Beach. She says she worries that parts could be “completely submerged” in the next 50 or so years.

A local CBS affiliate TV station has reported that “some roads there will be surrendered to the sea,” and that it may not be economically feasible to save some homes in Monroe County. A county administrator weighs the pros and cons of publicly buying-out some private residences doomed by rising seas, or letting landowners know “that we’re just not going to provide services.” Local planners also are reportedly discussing perhaps having to substitute boats for roads in some areas. They are considering issues like increased taxes (resiliency taxes) and seeking legal counsel advice on whether counties are required by law to try to raise roadways to protect specific neighborhoods, and legally authorized “to let a neighborhood go under water.” The video features a local county executive worried that saving some of the 300 miles of vulnerable roads in the Keys will cost “a billion, possibly even billions, of dollars.” 

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Comments 1 to 7:

  1. There are reasons to believe this might happen. Yet there is uncertainty. The risk involved must be properly assessed and a benefit-cost analysis under uncertainty must be made before making a decision.

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  2. Jaimesald:

    Deciding to do nothing now is "making a decision". Are you suggesting that there is too much uncertainty to do anything at all? Do you feel any uncertainty that taking no action is the best approach? Uncertainty works on everything - not just the action you seem to not want to do.

    Any delay reduces the time available to take action. Waiting too long can prevent taking any action at all until it is too late.

    Increased flooding in south Florida is not a risk - it has become an event:

    That means it is time to put the risk management plan into action.

    The people that have looked at how probable the risk is and what the likely damage will be are telling you the risk is high and the effects will be large. Do you have any specific argument as to why they might be in error, or are you just part of the "don't do anything until we have 100% certainty" crowd?

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  3. Perhaps Jamesald is correct: it is likely that it is already too late to do anything to preserve the Florida Keys.  If that is the case any money spent on mitigation is wasted and the best plan is do nothing until the water reaches too high and then run for high ground.  People will run when damage from big hurricanes come too close together.  About  11 million people in Florida will soon be affected by sea level rise.

    The Tamino post Bob Loblaw linked shows that sea level is already 1 full foot (300 mm) higher in Miami and the Florida Keys.  According to this newspaper article, it costs up to $60 million per mile to raise roads.  Just to raise Highway 101 (the main road through the Keys) would be at least $700 million. 

    Once people realize that sea level cannot be contained property values will plummet.

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  4. That should be Hwy A1A in Florida through the Keys.

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  5. When Jaimesald says "...this might happen...", it sounds like he thinks nothing will actually happen. Unless he returns to comment further, we can only speculate.

    Lost property value is, in one sense, a "paper loss". If people bought at a low price a long time ago and can't sell at some point in the future, then their real loss is what they originally paid (a small amount), plus whatever they could have gained if they had put the money into a different investment (the "opportunity cost").

    If people paid a lot recently, and then can't sell, they lose the value of their recent investment. The loss is more apparent.

    Abandoning property and infrastructure has no direct cost, but rebuilding elsewhere does. Usually, people that move can sell their property and use the money to buy or build elsewhere. When they can't sell at any useful price, they have to find the money from other sources to pick up their lives.

    Defend in place, or move elswhere - both are expensive options.

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  6. I am very sorry, I made a math error.

    Hwy A1A is about 100 miles from Key Largo to Key West.  At $60 million per mile it would cost about $6 billion just for this highway.  There are about 200 miles more roadway in the Keys that would also have to be raised.  The average height above sea level is 3 feet in the Keys and sea level is already 1 foot higher than the reference point.

    According to this real estate article the total property value of land in the Keys was about $23 in 2016.  How much is it worth spending on lifting roads for that much real estate?  Part of this real estate will be under water before the existing roads.  This is only the issue in the Florida Keys.  Even more real estate is on low lying ground in the rest of the USA.

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  7. $23 billion dollars for real estate in the Keys.

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