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Longboat group pushes for sea level rise solutions

The Revitalization Task Force sent a letter to island leaders asking for an infrastructure analysis plan about what parts of the island could be impacted by sea level rise.

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  • | 1:29 p.m. May 29, 2018
Whatever solutions that can be devised to head off rising sea levels can also be applied to hurricane surge protection, Tom Freiwald said.
Whatever solutions that can be devised to head off rising sea levels can also be applied to hurricane surge protection, Tom Freiwald said.
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The Longboat Key Revitalization Task Force has called for local action on sea level rise, saying recent storms and floods portend more drastic conditions in the future.

In a letter to the Town Commission this week, Revitalization Task Force Chairman Tom Freiwald warned island leaders of the potential adverse impacts of rising sea levels, including more intense storms, higher tides and storm surges and a potential decline in property values.

“LBK needs a well thought-out master plan, combined with a timeline of action, in order to counter all the negativities that will soon cloud our reputation as a reliable long-term investment and desirable place to live,” Freiwald wrote.

[Read the letter here]

Global sea level has been rising over the past century, a rate that has increased in recent decades, which the National Ocean Service at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration attributes to continued atmospheric and ocean warming. 

The average annual rise in sea levels is one-eighth of an inch, according to NOAA.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration estimates that by 2100, sea levels could rise anywhere from just over half a foot to six-and-a-half feet. Most of the island would be underwater if  sea levels were to rise six feet, according to NOAA projections.

“You can argue that it’s not going to happen, but the old motto is 'hope for the best but plan for the worst,' ” Freiwald said in an interview.

Freiwald acknowledged in his letter that uncertainty caused by sea level rise will affect the island financially: property values are at stake.

The value of property in Miami is already falling as a result of the potential impacts of sea level rise, according to a study produced by Harvard University, which Freewald references in his letter to the Town Commission.

Freiwald said that the Revitalization Task Force’s discussion of the subject often turned from what the impacts of sea level rise could be to what is causing it. He said he took caution in his letter to avoid those arguments and focus rather on the fact that sea levels are on the rise — facts that he hopes island leaders will also discuss rather than debating what's causing seas to rise. 

Commissioner Irwin Pastor said the town has already begun work on the potential impacts, and solutions to, sea level rise with the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program. That work has been going on for about a year, said Estuary Program Public Outreach Manager Darcy Young.

The partnership has spawned potential projects for the island, including looking at ways to ensure that the island's infrastructure is resilient to sea level rise. That could include new and innovative shoreline protection — solutions, such as living sea walls, that the Estuary Program is hoping to get a grant to fund a Bayfront Park demonstration project.

“The gist is that we're looking at it, addressing the sea level thing and ways of mitigating (potential impacts),” Pastor said.

Freiwald said that any improvement to the island to help with the potential impacts of sea level rise could also help protect the island from potential damage from hurricanes.

“We just want this to become a high visibility item, something that the Town Manager will comment on at every commission meeting, and that after four or five years, we’ve gone through the beginning of the beginning,” Freiwald said.


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