Construction crews beginning the pre-drilling work along the eastern edge of the A1A in an effort to adapt to the new normal caused by sea level rise.
Construction crews beginning the pre-drilling work along the eastern edge of the A1A in an effort to adapt to the new normal caused by sea level rise. (CANDACE WEST / COPYRIGHT 2013)

When Miami Beach celebrates its second centennial in 2115, it’s unlikely city officials will dive into a giant birthday cake in the gardens of the New World Symphony concert hall as they plan to do next year.

With just 3 feet of sea level rise as a mid-range prediction by 2100, much of Miami Beach including that civic landmark would be oceanic at high tide. With the same amount of sea level rise, parts of Surfside, Bal Harbour, large sections of Doral and nearly all of Miami-Dade County south of Homestead also would have ceded to the sea.

In a new report prepared by a special county task force examining sea level rise, Miami Beach is called out as the “canary in the coal mine for what will inevitably occur in other low-lying areas of the county.” Flooding on the barrier island, already a problem on some mostly sunny days, “will likely continue to increase to the point where some areas will need to be abandoned or repurposed,” the report reads.

Chaired by Harvey Ruvin, Miami-Dade’s clerk of courts, the report stands apart from previous efforts to address the impact of sea level rise due to its focus on mitigation and adaptation rather than prevention and environmental stewardship. The creation of the task force was sponsored by County Commission chairwoman Rebeca Sosa.

A previous Miami-Dade climate change advisory task force also looked at sea level rise. But most of its recommendations, after five years of work, had to do with reducing the county’s greenhouse gas emissions and focusing on renewable energy.

The new report assumes the county should plan for 3 feet of sea level rise by 2100, even though the task force heard worst-case scenarios that indicated nearly 5 feet of rise was possible.

The task force offers six recommendations, one of which is to more seriously implement the previous findings.

The first recommendation in the new report is for the county to begin “seeking and formally selecting the engineering and other relevant expertise needed to develop the robust capital plan” to protect vulnerable public infrastructure. In other words: hire some engineers.

For land use and development, the most significant recommendation asks the county to begin creating so-called “adaptation action areas” as called for in the county’s comprehensive development master plan. The last review of that plan last October suggested such areas—particularly prone to rising water—should be taken into account as part of land use planning by 2017.

Designating specific parts of the county as adaptation action areas could lead to additional funds being funneled to infrastructure upgrades to face sea level rise. But it could also lead to “adaptation planning,” or changing land use standards to discourage development.

The task force, which heard a presentation from the reinsurance industry during its proceedings, noted such planning was important in order to “avoid or postpone wholesale abandonment due to non-insurability or the high cost of premiums.”

The report will be presented to county commissioners at their Tuesday meeting.