In Fishkind Commentaries

The Keys are particularly vulnerable to sea level rise, but all of Florida’s coastal areas are at risk including places further inland along major rivers like Jacksonville, which was flooded during Hurricane Irma.

Economic analyst Hank Fishkind, president of Fishkind Litigation Services, says the latest studies indicate that it will cost in excess of $75 billion by 2030 to provide infrastructure to allow Florida to continue operating more or less as it does today. He tells 90.7’s Matthew Peddie sea level rise is a concern for residents of inland areas like Orlando, too.

Hank Fishkind: You know, first of all, there’s going to be spillover economic effects. I mean, if the Keys are flooded, and people can’t go to the Keys, it causes doubt about other areas of the state. So there’s some spillover economic effects. And second, inland areas are likely to be forced to bear a substantial portion of the cost in excess of the direct benefits that the inland areas get. And there’s a lot of precedent for this concern.

Matthew Peddie: What about people retreating from the coast?

HF: Well, that’s part of the potential economic benefit: increased demand, and there’s been some talk about people resettling onto the Florida ridge and other places. I don’t hold much stock in that. It’s more likely that people might even just leave the state, Matthew.

MP: Okay, let’s talk about the concern about the cost burden then.  What is the precedent for that?

HF: Well, following Hurricane Andrew, the state imposed an added assessment on all property insurance for almost a decade to recapitalize the state’s hurricane catastrophe insurance fund. So it’s very likely that given the voting power of Florida’s coastal areas, the inland property owners are going to end up shouldering a significant portion of the costs.

MP: There are infrastructure improvements that are being discussed to make Florida more resilient. What are some of those things?

HF: Well, the most obvious is sea walls. But there’s also a lot of beach renourishment and by adding sand and restoring the dunes, this adds protection. Already in South Florida, Miami Dade County and Miami Beach, they’re raising the roadway, spending $200 million for each of those jurisdictions; utility plants need to be raised and we need to create more water storage areas so that as the king tides occur, we have a place for that water to go rather than flooding.

MP: So what kind of policies are going to make economic sense?

HF: Well, to be concrete, let’s give an example of beach renourishment. We’ve been restoring beaches in Florida for years. We’ve been relying on federal state and local funding. The federal funding is small and it can’t be counted upon. The local funding is often done by specially assessing the local properties that directly benefit. So for example, in Amelia Island and Nassau County, which is just north of Jacksonville, they’ve been continuously restoring the beach for 30 years, they’ve been taxing the directly benefiting landowners for that all around the island with higher assessments for those that are directly on the beach, which makes sense. The beach maintenance protects the properties from storm surge and rising sea levels and allows them to continue to have oceanfront property because otherwise it’s going to erode into the water and and the system is very well accepted. So a system of, if you will, public- private partnerships where the private sector signs on in relationship to the benefits they receive is a good model. And we could do that for sea walls, we can do that for raising roads and other infrastructure of this type.

MP: Okay, so what else should state policymakers be thinking about?

HF: Well, sometime over the next decade, lenders and property insurers are going to become increasingly reluctant to provide 30 year mortgages or insurance policies for coastal properties. Now, this would put trillions of dollars of real estate value at risk, it would impact the economy of Florida; it would impact the tax base that our state depends upon. So the state needs to start planning for this by establishing a state fund like the hurricane catastrophe fund to ensure a smooth and continuous operation of the insurance and mortgage markets for our coastal properties. And all the Florida benefits from the smooth operation of these markets, Matthew.

MP: Hank Fishkind is 90.7’s economic analyst. Thank you so much, Hank.

HF: Thank you, Matthew.

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