ABOUT THE REGION
With 140 miles of coastline and five barrier islands boasting some of the state’s most magnificent, pristine beaches, Northeast Florida is “Florida’s First Coast,” and is vulnerable to sea level rise.
Jacksonville in Duval County is the major urban center, boasting a good mix of industrial manufacturing, transportation, financial services, health care, and military employment. Jacksonville accounts for almost 55 percent of the region’s population and is the employment hub for several other communities in the region. Land-wise, it is the largest city in the contiguous US. Other counties in the region are more rural and suburban in nature, relying heavily on agriculture and service sectors, with a limited, but growing industrial base often focused on a single sector. These counties are urbanizing at a growing rate, and beginning to develop more economic diversity. The region’s land area covers a total of 4,428 square miles, with 5.8 percent dedicated to agriculture, 2.1 percent to industry and commercial use, and 14.1 percent urbanized. The total population for the region is 1.5 million, which includes seven counties and 27 municipalities. Of the 27 municipalities, 15 have a population of less than 5,000 residents. The remaining municipalities are mid-sized, with populations around 10,000. The two largest cities in the region after Jacksonville are Palm Coast (75,180) in Flagler County, and Jacksonville Beach (21,362) in Duval County.
ABOUT THIS COLLABORATIVE
Northeast Florida has a working collaborative, the Public/Private Regional Resiliency (P2R2) Committee. Their goal is to develop a regional strategy that will incentivize population and private development to locate outside of areas vulnerable to the effects of sea level rise. The P2R2 Committee consists of private sector leaders willing to participate, but not currently advocates of mitigation or adaptation to climate change. They began their work in June 2014, and anticipate they will complete their strategy by June 2015. P2RD is a committee of the Northeast Florida Regional Council. The Northeast Florida Regional Council, formed in 1977, serves Regional District 4, and is comprised of seven counties (Baker, Clay, Duval, Flagler, Nassau, Putnam, and St. Johns) and 27 municipalities. P2R2 was convened pursuant to an action item in the NEFRC’s Regional Action Plan on Sea Level Rise.
In response to an action item in the region’s 50-year vision, First Coast Vision, the Regional Action Plan was created to look at the potential impacts of sea level rise on Northeast Florida. This was done through the Regional Community Institute of Northeast Florida (RCI), a nonprofit organization that does policy analysis for the Northeast Florida Regional Council (NEFRC). Starting in August 2012, the RCI deemed the region vulnerable to sea level rise, reviewed the available information, and made estimates as to the range and level of rise and planning timeframe. Using these estimates, the committee worked with local governments to determine individual risk to sea level rise. The committee used best practices and lessons learned from local governments to make policy recommendations in October 2013. These recommendations became the regional action plan.
In November 2013, the NEFRC endorsed the Regional Action Plan on Sea Level Rise and instructed staff to begin implementation. These efforts resulted in a unique opportunity to generate grassroots civic engagement and volunteers from the business community – at the time an untapped resource in Northeast Florida. This outpouring of civic engagment from citizens and the business community is the collaborative currently operating in Northeast Florida, the Public/Private Regional Resiliency (P2R2) Committee. On June 27, 2014, the first meeting of the P2R2 committee took place featuring presentations on sea level rise by the US Army Corps of Engineers, the NEFRC, the North Florida Land Trust, and the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve. The potential economic impact on private property of a sea level rise of one foot, three feet, six feet, and a category five storm surge were presented, and the committee also learned that that the region, which remains more than 50 percent undeveloped, has the ability to redirect development to areas that are not as vulnerable to sea level rise as the coast and riverfront. The committee‘s next meeting will focus on building a strategy – what approaches they could take and what other communities are doing.
PROMISING PRACTICES AND INNOVATIONS
The promising practice that can be taken away from the Northeast Florida experience is the use of volunteers to make policy recommendations. NEFRC runs a Regional Leadership Academy to train diverse leaders on regional issues. Graduates of the academy become members of RCI, which serves as a policy think tank for NERFC. They volunteer to participate on committees that are addressing policy issues of interest to them. NEFRC staffs their efforts, but the 50-year regional vision and the Regional Action Plan on Sea Level Rise were accomplished at minimal cost and with private sector buy-in. RCI’s practice of only including doable action items in its plans,and only making recommendations that can be implemented at the regional or local level, makes their plans credible and allows for immediate action. So far, RCI’s recommendations have been adopted by NEFRC without change.
THE CHALLENGES AHEAD
The existence of a Regional Action Plan on Sea Level Rise in a part of Florida that is politically conservative and not consistently engaged in a dialogue on climate change or adaptation is in itself an accomplishment.
- Because the plan is focused only on immediately actionable items, failure to develop its most visible recommendation, the strategy development and private sector leadership of the P2R2 Committee could result in a political backlash that would hamper future efforts to address sea level rise and climate change in the region.
- If the committee further develops an actionable strategy, individual members will then be challenged to publicly lead on the issue of adaptation and potentially climate change.
- Committee members are regional thought and community leaders. Citizens will listen to them, but developing a clear message around the plan and a supplemental marketing strategy to communicate that message will be a challenge.
- Finally, Northeast Florida maximizes the use of volunteers but implementation of the strategy would benefit from funding.