Florida investing $20 million in coastal resiliency projects as state prepares for sea level rise

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Gov. DeSantis speaks about managing water levels in Lake Okeechobee

Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks about managing water levels in Lake Okeechobee on Wednesday, May 12, 2021, at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers.

Amanda Inscore, Fort Myers News-Press

The state is moving ahead with $20 million in grants for 98 coastal planning and resiliency projects spread across Florida. 

Coastal resiliency is one of the top priorities, Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon at Lovers Key State Park in Bonita Springs. 

“Some (projects) would relocate structures out of flood prone areas, some are elevating or relocation of waste water and drinking water facilities, some would raise the elevation of buildings, road sand other infrastructure’ and some would establish living shorelines to reduce storm impacts,” DeSantis said. 

Called the Resilient Florida Program Planning Grants, the overall program aims to better prepare coastal and inland for sea level rise and climate change. 

“For the first time, Florida has strategic coordination guiding statewide efforts to protect coastal and inland infrastructure, and dedicated funding to support these projects,” DeSantis said. “These grants will strengthen Florida’s infrastructure to withstand the impacts of flooding and storm surge. My administration will continue the momentum to support resilience in communities across the state.”

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Florida resiliency chief, Wesley Brooks, said the money will help local communities with the design and construction of critical infrastructure projects. 

“That’s the work folks are going to see and experience in their neighborhoods or on their commutes,” Brooks said. “It’s the work that will keep critical facilities operational during the wake of a storm surge event, that will allow first responders to better access flood-impacted communities on raised evacuation routes.” 

Brooks said the projects will not degrade water quality, and that residents can feel confident that Florida is a leading state when it comes to resiliency planning. 

“It’s the work that the local officials and community resiliency planners I most often engage with can’t say enough good things about,” Brooks said. “It really delivers confidence for taxpayers, business and most residents across the state of Florida.” 

Brooks said the suite of projects will better position communities to prepare for coming storm surge and more powerful tropical events that are expected to impact the state more in the future. 

‘You cannot do resiliency if you don’t get the Everglades right’

Chauncey Goss, chair of the South Florida Water Management District, said aging South Florida drainage systems need work. 

“Our foundation as a water management district is flood control,” Goss said. “And the system is now half a century old, so we need to deal with changes we’ve seen in Florida, changes in the landscape, changes in population with more people living in vulnerable areas along the coast, and we have rising sea level and a constantly changing climate.” 

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Goss said the state and federal government agencies involved with Everglades restoration need to plan for these issues as well. 

“You cannot do resiliency if you don’t get the Everglades right,” Goss said. “And if you don’t get the water right, there is no Everglades.” 

U.S. Congressman Byron Donalds (R-Naples) said one of the questions he hears most from Florida voters is “what’s being done about water.” 

“The way you do it is with planning,” he said. “You have to plan if you’re going to succeed. And from what I’ve seen from the Llegislature and the governor these past few years is a commitment to the planning and a commitment to the projects to preserve the beauty of Southwest Florida.” 

Connect with this reporter: @ChadEugene on Twitter.