Resiliency and Credit Ratings: A New Warning for Coastal Cities

Resiliency

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Resiliency and Credit Ratings: A New Warning for Coastal Cities:

Resiliency items on commission agenda this week

We’ve written about this before… how the City of Miami Beach has gotten favorable credit ratings and interest rates as a result of its efforts to combat sea level rise. Now comes an article from Climate Liability News warning of downgrades in municipal credit ratings for many U.S. coastal cities that don’t address the issue “as investors, underwriters and credit ratings agencies are asking increasingly pointed questions about sea level rise-related risks." The current City Commission which includes three new members elected in November has struggled with the pace of the resiliency projects here and unhappiness with one of the solutions, road elevation.  Some projects have been placed on hold or delayed while the City reviews its plan.

A group from the Urban Land Institute (ULI) recently gave the City high marks for its efforts with suggestions for expanding its efforts to include blue and green infrastructure and giving more attention to the above ground aesthetics which many have been critical of. A final report is expected from the ULI team this summer.
 
This week’s Commission meeting includes several items related to resiliency:
 
Second reading for an ordinance to allow non-air conditioned space under elevated single-family homes and to not count that space toward overall unit size. This ordinance provides other options beyond creating large berms for homes to sit on top of. Given new regulations requiring new homes to be built higher to account for sea level rise, City staff writes in a memo to Commissioners that forcing everyone to build on elevated berms “would create environmental, water retention, drainage and water run-off issues to the main house, as well as create an architectural and compatibility issue with the built context of the surrounding area.” (Item R5 B)

First reading for an ordinance to waive permit fees for homeowners who tie-in to the City’s stormwater system, specifically properties “where the finished floor of the residential structure is below the crown of the road.” Last April, the City Commission adopted a resolution to give homeowners assurances with regard to the road elevation and water drainage from properties below the crown of the road. In that resolution the City committed not to shed stormwater from public property onto private property and that homeowners be allowed to tie into the municipal stormwater system to drain water from their property. This ordinance would address the fee issue. (Item R5 Q)

Resolution regarding the use of temporary pumps only in emergency situations: While the City works on a ten-year timeline for infrastructure improvements including larger pipes, pump stations, and road raising, it has utilized temporary pumps and back-up generators on a routine basis to combat flooding. The City’s Public Works Department says the cost has increased from approximately $469,000 in 2017 to an estimated $1.1m this year, an item without a dedicated funding source as it is not an eligible expense under the stormwater bonds. In a memo to the Commission, City Manager Jimmy Morales wrote, “[I]t may not be fiscally prudent to continue to fund such temporary relief from flooding and sea level rise. Annually, the City faces King Tides, hurricanes and heavy rain events. Proposed infrastructure improvements will provide permanent relief from these types of events.” The Administration proposes using the temporary pumps and generators when a water event can be predicted such as the annual King Tides or a pending emergency such as a hurricane. “The temporary pumps and generators would not be utilized for routine flooding or maintenance purposes, as the City needs to ensure that the capital projects proposed under the City’s Stormwater Master Plan, and as funded through the various stormwater bonds, are timely constructed,” Morales wrote.
(Item R7 K)

Blue and green infrastructure are natural solutions for capturing and distributing water in a more environmentally friendly way and are often less expensive. A resolution would direct the City administration to identify new efficient green and blue distributed infrastructure innovations and technologies as well as ways to pay for it. Both the recent ULI and Harvard studies of the City’s efforts have suggested exploring these ideas. (Item R7 J
 
Lack of funding and/or planning for the above ground areas where a new infrastructure project has been completed is another of the criticisms of the City’s current efforts. A proposal by Commissioner Mark Samuelian to identify funding for the above ground portion of projects before moving forward is another item on the agenda. Initially, the wording of the resolution raised concerns that the underground portion of a project would not proceed without funding for the above ground piece. It has since been amended to be more clear that it refers to the above ground piece only. Samuelian told us that as the underground projects are done, residents have asked the City to dedicate resources to improving the above the ground streetscape including landscaping, lighting, and “beautification of the new equipment that we’ve put in,” using the pump on West Avenue as an example. 
 
While the below ground work has dedicated funding sources, the above ground work does not. “What I’m trying to accomplish is… to make sure that we have transparency with our residents,” he said. “What that means is that they know what we’re planning to do, what’s funded and not. That doesn’t mean they’re going to get everything they want but there’s transparency. Before we commit to do something that we have the money for it. If it’s not funded we can’t do it.”
 
While there are the two extremes of doing everything a neighborhood wants and doing nothing, Samuelian said there are options in between including “just beautify anything that we did with our [new] pumps and our equipment.”
 
“What I’m definitely not trying to do is slow down that important work,” he said. He simply wants to “be transparent with our residents that we then are going to have the funding available, that we are committed to the above ground, and if the answer is we’re not going to do anything on the above ground then, of course, you would need zero funding so you’re not going to proceed with the above ground.”
 
“Clearly if the GO Bond were to pass, this issue becomes a lot less difficult because that would become the source of funding,” he added. But if it doesn’t pass, he wants to discuss “how would we approach funding for the above ground, what are we going to do in certain neighborhoods to address it.” (Item R7 M)
 
 

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