Florida’s coastal communities face unprecedented challenges with sea-level rise (SLR) as it permanently inundates areas and exacerbates typical coastal hazards. SLR creates legal and financial challenges as it impacts infrastructure for which local governments have legal and financial responsibilities. These challenges call for equally novel planning and policy development; such thinking, legal research, and drafting often exceed the capacities of small- and medium-sized local governments that frequently lack the staff bandwidth and specialization to independently conduct such work.
Florida Sea Grant (FSG) has, since 2012, been collaborating with the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council (ECFRPC) to provide legal and policy research, conduct trainings and outreach, and draft legal language for small- and medium-sized communities on Florida’s east central coast. Through planning policies and approaches developed by FSG, small- and medium-sized local governments in the region focus on grounding today’s policy and actions in long-term visions balancing desires for coastal protection and infrastructure services with the fiscal and physical realities of our changing coast. Areas of focus include comprehensive plan language seeking to minimize potentially crippling legal and fiscal liabilities for infrastructure and shifting the focus of infrastructure services from reactive to specific property owner complaints to proactive based on current and future scenarios focused on infrastructure services as part of a system serving communities of people. As part of the ECFRPC’s Regional Resiliency Collaborative and co-developer of the ECFRPC-led “Regional Resilience Action Plan,” FSG has been instrumental in developing policies and working with the ECFRPC to disseminate them.
FSG and Thomas Ruppert served as a driving force in the City of Satellite Beach’s adoption of Adaptation Action Areas language in their comprehensive plan—the first municipality in Florida to do so. In Ordinance 1160, Satellite Beach became the first municipality we are aware of in Florida to explicitly state in its land development code that its policies seek “to promote a managed retreat from the sensitive ocean bluff and Erosion Adaptation Action Areas.” This represents a shift away from hard armoring of our coastlines and recognition of a changing future. Satellite Beach approved Ordinance 1194 on March 17, 2021. This ordinance adopted virtually verbatim extensive FSG comprehensive plan recommendations. Ordinance 1194 modified Satellite Beach’s Comprehensive Plan elements for Infrastructure, Coastal Management, Intergovernmental Coordination, Capital Improvements, and Future Land Use. As of January 2022, at least nine additional local governments in the ECFRPC’s region have adopted language drafted by FSG, edited by FSG, or drafted by the ECFRPC with input from FSG, including: Brevard County, Cape Canaveral, Cocoa, Melbourne Beach, New Smyrna Beach, Oak Hill, Rockledge, Titusville, and Volusia County. As part of the ECFRPC’s “Regional Resilience Collaborative,” more local governments in the area are expected to likely adopt language based on the resilience work of FSG and ECFRPC. In September of 2022, Satellite Beach adopted an ordinance and supporting documents created by FSG to integrate additional recommendations on notice of sea-level rise to permit applicants. FSG continues to collaborate with Satellite Beach and partners to move forward resilience in Satellite Beach and the many communities emulating Satellite Beach’s approach.
Florida Sea Grant is leading the way in developing holistic legal and planning examples for small- to medium-sized local governments attempting to balance local government fiscal constraints and the realities of sea-level rise through adaptations grounded in long-term visions informing short-, medium-, and long-term actions designed to maximize the quality of life, economic outlook, and safety of coastal governments on our changing coastline. Local governments are responding by adopting FSG-drafted/inspired language into their comprehensive planning for resilience and into ordinances.