Monday, May 11, 2015

Water watch #1 (too much): Rising seas threaten historic St. Augustine, Florida politicians in denial

St. Augustine is getting flooded more and more frequently, but Florida politicians, particularly its GOPlin Gov. Rick Scott, have said and done little about it. Never mind that St. Augustine might be the poster child for the other Florida coastal cities. The Associated Press story is at gulflive.com (reprinted in the print edition of this morning's Daily Star). Snippets follow.

St. Augustine is one of many chronically flooded communities along Florida's 1,200-mile coastline, and officials in these diverse places share a common concern: They're afraid their buildings and economies will be further inundated by rising seas in just a couple of decades. The effects are a daily reality in much of Florida. Drinking water wells are fouled by seawater. Higher tides and storm surges make for more frequent road flooding from Jacksonville to Key West, and they're overburdening aging flood-control systems.

But the state has yet to offer a clear plan or coordination to address what local officials across Florida's coast see as a slow-moving emergency. Republican Gov. Rick Scott is skeptical of man-made climate change and has put aside the task of preparing for sea level rise, an Associated Press review of thousands of emails and documents pertaining to the state's preparations for rising seas found.

Despite warnings from water experts and climate scientists about risks to cities and drinking water, skepticism over sea level projections and climate change science has hampered planning efforts at all levels of government, the records showed. Florida's environmental agencies under Scott have been downsized and retooled, making them less effective at coordinating sea level rise planning in the state, the documents showed.

"If I were governor, I'd be out there talking about it (sea level rise) every day," said Eric Buermann, the former general counsel to the Republican Party of Florida who also served as a water district governing board member. "I think he's really got to grab ahold of this, set a vision, a long-term vision, and rally the people behind it. Unless you're going to build a sea wall around South Florida, what's the plan?"

Quoting from Mad Max, "Plan? There ain't no plan."

Actually there does seem to be a plan unfolding in two parts.

Part 1: Suppress speech by government environmental agencies.

Cities like St. Augustine have looked for help, but Scott's disregard for climate change science has created a culture of fear among state employees, records show.

The administration has been adamant that employees, including scientists, not "assign cause" in public statements about global warming or sea level rise, internal government emails show.

Part 2. And then cut their budgets.

In a brief interview with the AP in March, Scott wouldn't address whether the state had a long-range plan. He cited his support for Everglades restoration and some flood-control projects as progress but said cities and counties should contact environmental and water agencies to find answers — though Scott and a GOP-led legislature have slashed billions in funding from those agencies.

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