Build before you drown

by Bernard McCormick Wednesday, October 14, 2015 No Comment(s)

While Gov. Rick Scott is in New York urging businesses and people to move to Florida, people in Florida are wondering where they will go when the state disappears under the waves. The timing could not be more ironic. The governor makes these recruiting trips when something as predictable as high tides give South Florida a foretaste of the kind of flooding that climate experts say is only going to get worse, possibly much faster than originally thought.

The page one story in Tuesday's Sun Sentinel reported that South Florida may have passed the point of no return for some cities—even if the current emissions of greenhouse gases gets no worse. Now, we are not scientists, as Republicans like to say, but most of our faculties are intact and that is enough to note that floods are getting worse and more frequent, and roads we haven’t seen flooded in 40 years are now routinely covered by storms or high tides.

Just around the corner from where we sit, a small canal (actually a natural branch of a river that has been canalized) flooded for a day. The current there does not seem very strong, but it was enough to erode about 10 feet of the bank and start crumbling part of the roadway. In just one day. It was a mini-version of the erosion that took away part of A1A along Fort Lauderdale’s public beach when Hurricane Sandy (which did not hit close to Florida) caused unusual tides to hammer the road.

The Sun Sentinel story provides some scary statistics. It says that even extreme cuts in greenhouse gases would preserve by 2,100 high ground in Fort Lauderdale now occupied by only 17,555 of the city’s 165,521 residents; Boca Raton would do somewhat better, losing only about 25 percent of the land now occupied by humans.

And Gov. Scott goes to New York to ask more people to come here. To accommodate them, many South Florida officials seem happy to approve high-density projects in areas already prone to flooding. Even small plots of open land, which can accommodate vegetation to absorb water, are paved over to worsen the situation by channeling more runoff into rivers and canals.

We wonder if part of the urge to build on the part of developers stems not so much from ignorance, as from the unnerving knowledge that if they don’t move fast they may be too late. Are they thinking they have an expensive piece of property where they can only preserve their investment by building as much as they can and sell out as quickly as they can? Before laws or simple old-fashioned morality will force them to tell prospective buyers that their highrise water view may someday be straight down at parking lots where their cars sit half submerged.

Not being scientists, we have no authority to wonder if the destruction of a section of A1A by a hurricane a thousand miles away might be repeated sooner rather than later on a much larger scale, perhaps totally wiping out a beach road and sending water into the lobbies of hotels and condos where the smell of new construction is still fresh.

The answer from people who are admittedly not scientists: bring more polluting people and build while you can. And consider cranes on houseboats.

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