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What will happen to PortMiami as the sea levels continue to rise?

PortandTerminal.com, September 24, 2019

How will the PortMiami adapt and cope with the seemingly inevitable climate catastrophe that it faces?

MIAMI, FL – There is probably no city in the United States today in which the effects of climate change are more visible than in Miami. Built on land that is as porous as Swiss cheese and perched just 6 feet above the Atlantic Ocean, Miami is both sinking and flooding at the same time.

While some scientific models predict enough polar ice melt to bring at least 10 feet of sea-level rise to South Florida by 2100, as little as just 12 inches more would make 15% of Miami uninhabitable. And if 2010 sounds like it’s a long way off, it’s not. Young children alive today already have a good shot of living well past the year 2100. Will they be taking cruises out of PortMiami in their retirement? It’s looking unlikely.

Elevation, elevation, elevation

A woman walks through the streets in the Little Haiti neighborhood in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

People in Miami are already starting to talk about “climate gentrification“, where previously low-income neighborhoods like Little Haiti are rising in value and under pressure from developers because of their higher ground, resulting in the displacement of people. In Miami these days, it’s all about elevation, elevation, elevation.

Artist Xavier Cortada poses with a yard sign stating that the area is five feet above sea level in Pinecrest, Fla. Cortada created an “Underwater Homeowner’s Association” (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Miami has the greatest total value of assets exposed to flooding of any city in the world: more than $400 billion according to some reports.

Worried by this, neighbors in one Miami area have formed America’s first Underwater Homeowners Association and named a marine scientist as its president. Participating homeowners get signs in their yards noting how many feet above sea level they stand, and they hold meetings to discuss how their suburban community can prepare for the effects of climate change.

PortMiami is especially vulnerable to climate change

View of Port Miami’s Dodge Island facilities

Ports are by default particularly exposed to severe weather. And while they are designed to withstand extreme weather events, they are not invulnerable to them. Miami learned this first hand during Hurricane Irma in 2017 when much of the port suffered serious flooding. Unfortunately, climate change is only expected to increase the frequency and magnitude of similar events happening in the future.

PortMiami though is especially vulnerable to climate change for two reasons.

The first reason is its location. The port is located on an island that sits just 7.5 feet above sea level and is composed of the same porous limestone as the rest of the city. As sea levels continue to rise, the infrastructure at the port will increasingly come under the threat of flooding. FEMA already lists Dodge Island where much of the port is located as a “Special Flood Hazard Area”.

Reason number two is its business mix. Miami is the world’s largest cruise port. In 2018 Miami welcomed a record 5.6 million cruise passengers who accounted for half of the port’s operating revenues.

Cruise passengers are fickle though. How interested in cruising out of Miami will passengers be in the future as sea levels rise, flooding is commonplace and extreme weather events in Florida and the Carribean become more frequent?

None of this comes as news to PortMiami officials who have identified climate change as one of their biggest concerns in the PortMiami 2035 Master Plan.

One of the biggest concerns involving the future of the Port of Miami is global climate change and the threat of sea level rise.

PortMiami 2035 Master Plan

The Master Plan goes on to say that 2-foot rise in sea level would result in spring tides at 4.5 to 5 feet higher than the present mean sea level. “This would cause frequent flooding of barrier islands, fill islands, and low-lying mainland areas as the Port is classified”

There is no simple fix though and anything the port tries to do will be expensive and only “mitigating” at best.

Conservative estimates of the capital investments needed to combat rising seas and worsening storms run into the hundreds of billions of dollars nationally in the coming decades. A report by the Center for Climate Integrity estimates that Florida, with an estimated $76 billion in costs, is the state with the largest exposure to climate change cost.

“The failure to face these costs is the next phase of climate denial. We’ve got to look at this squarely and figure out how to pay for it.”

Richard Wiles, Executive Director, Center for Climate Integrity

Miami’s $400 million Forever bond allocates $192M for sea-level rise/flood prevention.

In the November 2017 election, voters in Miami approved a $400 million Forever bond. The Miami Forever bond is a $400M general obligation bond that will pay for projects to protect our homes and property from sea-level rise flooding and increase affordable housing. The bond has $192 million dollars earmarked it for sea-level rise, flooding projects. It’s not much given the scale of the problem but it’s a start.

Where does all of this leave PortMiami in the longer term? What measures can they take to mitigate and adapt to the climate change crisis that they face? Ultimately, will PortMiami be like Indonesia’s capital Jakarta and simply have to relocate to drier ground?



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