During the three gubernatorial debates, something more profound than a breakdown over a personal cooling device occurred, and it happened so quickly that many of us almost missed it. Amid the bickering, the puffery and the ceaseless back-and-forth, it appears that these two men — two men who clearly can’t agree on almost any issue — met on common ground.
Though only briefly, both seemed to agree now is the time to rely on what science, accompanied by tangible, irrefutable facts, is telling us. Instead of continuing a philosophical debate on what is causing a host of calamities, which now and increasingly will plague this state, it seems they agreed we must begin to work on fixing them.
The sobering truth is that with the longest coastline in the continental United States, Florida is facing significant vulnerabilities. They include coastal and inland flooding, storm surge, saltwater contamination of drinking water supplies, impact on water supply and wastewater systems, beach erosion, and threats to public and private property and infrastructure.
We will also experience or are already experiencing public health challenges, ocean acidification with effects on coral reefs and fisheries, not to mention additional stresses on the Everglades. Many of these impacts will affect critical resources, community sustainability, and the very heart of our economic engine – tourism.
Too much of Florida’s coastal and inland infrastructure is crumbling or inadequate to meet our current — never mind our future — needs. Seawalls across our state are literally falling into a rising ocean while once high-and-dry areas are now flooding on sunny days. Bridges, culverts and roads, once built on stable foundations, are now shifting and some have collapsed. Many of South Florida’s coastal drinking wells have gone from fresh water to salty water and now inland wells are threatened as saltwater intrusion continues to advance. Neighborhoods that used to rely on gravity to drain after rainstorms are now in need of expensive pumps in order to keep their homes above water.
We no longer have the luxury of getting lost in partisan or philosophical debates about what caused the proverbial pothole that needs fixing. True leaders understand the days of intractable positions and unwinnable battles are over. Florida’s future prosperity will hinge on genuine roll-up-your-sleeves governing.
It is also vital that Florida’s next governor, no matter who he may be, will not just commit to fixing our crumbling infrastructure, but seek to understand underlying causes and face head-on the need for mitigation, adaptation and resilience.
He must do so for the most basic of economic reasons.
How can our state continue to grow when saltwater intrusion threatens our fresh-water supply? How can we transport goods on roads and bridges that are literally falling into the sea? How can we have a stable real estate market if insurers refuse to cover even inland homes? We need to act now, at a time when the costs of resilience, adaptation and mitigation are within our reach and not when repairs and rehab will be far too expensive for our citizens to afford. In short, the few dollars we spend today will save billions in the future.
It seems that amid the many disagreements, two men who have walked — and continue to walk — very different journeys, agreed that now is the time to begin the task of fixing Florida’s crumbling infrastructure, regardless of what is causing it.
Let’s get to work indeed.
Bill Golden, the executive director of the National Institute for Coastal and Harbor Infrastructure (NICHIusa.org), has worked as a businessman, lawyer and government official on the resolution of complex environmental infrastructure issues, including the creation of US EPA, the cleanup of Boston Harbor and the development of renewable energy. Column courtesy of Context Florida.