Broward County Mayor Leads Local Response To Sea Level Rise

May 16, 2013

Broward County Mayor Kristin Jacobs

Even before last year's coastal calamity caused by superstorm Sandy, Broward County Mayor Kristin Jacobs was trying to get everyone's attention about sea-level rise and it's impact on South Florida.

She's one of the founding members of the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact, a multi-county effort to help local governments plan ahead. Jacobs is a longtime county commissioner serving a second one-year term as mayor, a largely ceremonial role.

But while some state lawmakers watched shorelines disappear after Sandy, the issue was not up for debate in Tallahassee during Florida’s 2013 Legislative Session.

According to Jacobs, the good news is their expertise wasn’t needed.

“How we got started in the first place was realizing that the real grown-ups in the room (were) county governments. When Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe counties speak with one voice, we started to get that attention.”

Jacobs said even if the legislature provided extra money, the state has given Broward and other counties the resources needed to provide fixes.

“One of the things we were able to get through the legislature two years ago was language that identifies adaptation action areas, areas of the state that are vulnerable, and prioritizes the use of their dollars,” she said.

One project that merited attention from Florida leaders was A1A in Fort Lauderdale. Part of the state road that runs along the ocean was taken over by the sea and had to be rebuilt from a four-lane road down to three.

“We know that they will begin to pay more attention in times to come," Jacobs said.

In the meantime, Broward county has just begun incorporating sea-level rise and climate change projections into their land development codes.

“The idea is,” says Jacobs, “We won’t have to be rescued by the state.”

As for how to prepare in the short term for rising seas, ruined roads and slow-moving property destruction, Mayor Jacobs says its simple.

“When you have dunes and marshes along your coastline, those areas don’t seem to get damaged as much. All beach renourishment projects must include sand dune areas.”

Ironically she notes -- The Army Corp of Engineers -- which is responsible for building dunes and marshes has recently cut funding for those projects, which will make implementation more difficult.

As for businesses and homeowners who might have their views obstructed by dunes, Jacobs says that’s tough luck.

“When A1A falls into the ocean, and when they no longer have a beach, they don’t care about what they said in the past. They want you there fixing it,” she said.

In her interview, Jacobs also discusses Broward’s remarkably low unemployment rate and a new runway project at county-run Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.