City to Test its Resiliency Efforts

Resiliency

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

City to Test its Resiliency Efforts:

commissioners debate research, "slowdown" of projects

It was only supposed to be a simple referral to Committee but it turned into a twenty minute discussion on Miami Beach's initiatives to combat sea level rise. Newly elected City Commissioner Mark Samuelian wanted to share his proposal for setting up a “red team” as suggested by Mayor Dan Gelber on the campaign trail to bring in independent experts to provide feedback on resiliency projects, including road elevation.
 
“I believe we have a strong consensus on the dais that flooding and sea level rise is a very critical issue to Miami Beach,” he said at the first meeting of the new Commission. “And I think we can agree that we are well served to have taken some actions and try to address this issue. I believe we are at a important time where we should reflect on what we’ve done, to understand how we’re doing, what’s worked, and some lessons learned.”
 
To the residents he met on the campaign trail, he said, “We’ve heard you. We’ve heard a lot from you” regarding concerns about road projects. He said his proposal has two primary objectives. "First, to take a fresh look at our plans, our neighborhood projects to, again, ascertain what’s worked well and to look for opportunities to improve. But second, to increase the level of understanding and comfort of our residents in terms of these initiatives and, I would say across the board, for particularly one concept as it relates to street elevation.”
 
City Manager Jimmy Morales said the City is expecting a proposal in January from 100 Resilient Cities, an initiative of the Rockefeller Foundation which Miami Beach is part of, to pull together a group to implement a red team concept with regard to road elevation and water quality issues. Those are the two concerns most raised by residents, he said.
 
Kristen Rosen Gonzalez who was elected two years ago was not always in alignment with her colleagues when the last Commission made decisions with regard to resiliency projects. “While we’re doing this, can we put the current projects on hold while we figure out what we’re doing because some of these projects, they’re not small projects." Meanwhile, she said, "Sunset Harbour is flooding. Businesses are closing. People are complaining and I know that this is a trial and error project but all I would ask is that we just slow this down right now.”
 
She raised the proposed project on West Avenue which she said has “disturbed and upset” residents. “They don’t want to be in the same situation that Sunset Harbour is in so all I’m asking – I’m not saying we cancel these projects – but maybe just put a little pause, slow it down, and do the research.”
 
Morales said of West Ave, “That’s going to get put on pause while [we do] this exercise plus have additional community outreach.”
 
Commissioner Ricky Arriola who lives in Sunset Harbour and is a proponent of the City’s resiliency initiatives objected to Rosen Gonzalez’ comments. “I disagree with the assertion that every time it rains it floods. It is a night and day change from where we were four or five years ago. Ask any merchant, any resident there. Living through it was not pleasant. You wanted to pull your hair out but what we have now is the most walkable, the most pleasant and, I think, magnificent part of our community and testament to that is just the amount of people that are going there. It is fabulous and but for the work that was done over the last four years by [Public Works Director] Eric [Carpenter] and his team, that neighborhood would have been a blighted neighborhood so thank you Eric and the team for doing what you did.”
 
Another proponent of the initiatives, Commissioner John Alemán said it was important to note that the projects include more than resiliency. “We have multiple projects going on here. We are adding a redundant sewer line because our sewer system is very, very old, and in some cases caved in and full of roots, etc … We’re also repairing and replacing the water main system. In very limited parts of the city, the water pressure is not adequate to our standards, and we’ve got workarounds for things like fire safety. So sometimes we forget that the way that this whole rollout was crafted was to address expanding the capacity of the stormwater system and the water main and the sewer line in such a way that we only go into a neighborhood and tear up the roads once. We’re not going to go back three times.”
 
She also emphasized, “We need to be very careful when we say the word pause. The confidence of the financial markets, the confidence of the insurance markets in what we are doing to address sea level rise and resiliency absolutely affects everyone that lives here and our property values. Confidence lost is not easily regained. So to my colleagues I would plead to not be overly reactionary.”
 
“I’m not at all in favor of pushing pause while we reevaluate the criteria and our assumptions," she added. "That’s a healthy thing to do. We should do it. But we should not stop in our tracks. It will affect the way our city is perceived, the way our resiliency is perceived. It will affect our property values and, by the way, we have a stellar team of engineers and our contracting partners that are working on this. If they’re not working here they will go work somewhere else and we will not be able to get them back. And building material costs are rising. Labor costs for quality engineers, quality construction personnel are rising and the cost of capital, you know, the cost of financing these projects will be rising and will continue to do so as our neighboring seaside towns around the state of Florida and the other coastlines catch up to where the City of Miami Beach is in terms of addressing these issues.” She concluded,  “I hope I’ve adequately described the reasons why we need to keep going.”
 
Michael Góngora, another newly elected Commissioner said, “We’re talking a lot about confidence but one of the things that we learned, those of us that have been on the campaign trail this year, is that the residential community doesn’t have a lot of confidence in these projects. There’s not an overwhelming layer of support for it. And resident event after resident event, people questioned why this was moving at the pace it was, whether it was necessary.”
 
He also noted concerns about communication surrounding the projects. “Quite frankly there was a lot of distress about the way they were communicated.”
 
“These are very expensive projects,” Góngora said. “We’re going to have one shot to do them. I am a huge proponent of sustainability and keeping our City dry. Ten years ago, I created the Sustainability Committee and worked some time back on the sustainability plan and stormwater master plan we’re still working off of. I question sometimes whether what we’re doing is the right thing and if I question it then there’s a lot of questions in the community.” He said he was supportive of the red team concept “to really second guess [the plan]. Let’s rip it apart. Let’s make sure we’re doing the right thing. Let’s make sure this one time we spend all of this money on our City that we get it right, and then we’re gonna have the confidence of everybody around the world, the stock market, our residential properties will be protected in their value.”
 
“I hope this moves quickly,” he said. “I also would like to move forward with [the resiliency plan] but I want to make sure that what we’re moving forward with is the correct fix for our City.”
 
Gelber clarified his position, “Just so everybody’s very clear, the purpose of this is to refer it to … committee where I expect all these issues are going to be resolved and discussed. The purpose of the red team isn’t to come up with another judgment. It’s to give us a path by which we can bring in independent experts … to make sure that we have a proper and elevated apparatus of challenging ourselves in a way that’s thoughtful because, frankly, we do know we’re creating dislocation and we do know we’re spending tons of money and if we’re gonna do that, we ought to at least give our citizens and residents the comfort that we’ve done everything we can to make sure this is something that we have to do so I think that this is a proper approach.”
 
“Nobody is suggesting we’re going to stop something and we’re looking for someone to tell us that,” Gelber said. “We’re looking for the best science available to help guide us through this process.”
 
Morales emphasized the City has been working with international experts AECOM since embarking on the resiliency initiative four years ago. “We said we need to make sure we have someone looking over our shoulder and making sure we’re doing it right,” he said. AECOM is “one of the premier expert firms” and “they review every plan that comes out” of the City and signs off on them, Morales said. He said he understood the new effort is to “test some of the conclusions that have come out of that group to make sure that we’re on the right track but I didn’t want the misimpression that we don’t in fact have international experts who are looking over our shoulder every day on it.”
 
The item was referred to the Sustainability and Resiliency Committee for further discussion.
 
 

Independent Experts to Review City's Resiliency Efforts

Resiliency


Susan Askew
Susan Askew
late march target date for "red team" assessment

proposed height standards for sea level rise

Resiliency


Susan Askew
Susan Askew
impacts commercial and rm-1, rm-2 districts

homeowners to tie into stormwater system without charge


Susan Askew
Susan Askew
commission rethinks earlier plan, will incentivize instead

sea level rise criteria, new commercial height standards


Susan Askew
Susan Askew
planning board preview

City’s Resiliency Efforts in the Spotlight

Resiliency


Susan Askew
Susan Askew
FEMA, French and German TV feature #MBRisingAbove

Dressing up Storm Water Pump Stations

Resiliency


Susan Askew
Susan Askew
making them a little easier on the eyes