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OPINION: U.S. stimulus package needs to help communities face climate risks

Thursday, 29 April 2021 15:42 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: A partially submerged car is seen at a flooded area in Coconut Grove as Hurricane Irma arrives at south Florida, in Miami, Florida, U.S., September 10, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Coronavirus recovery cash should help cities adapt to the realities of rising seas, stronger storms, and more frequent flooding, mayor say

Francis Suarez is the mayor of Miami; John Tecklenburg is the mayor of Charleston, South Carolina; Kenneth Cooper Alexander is the mayor of Norfolk, Virginia, and Grover C. Robinson IV is the mayor of Pensacola, Florida.

As mayors from different parts of the United States, we represent the diversity of America, each of us leading different cities with different sets of needs.

But despite our differences, we share a common need that’s critical to any successful recovery: fixing America’s crumbling infrastructure with a forward-looking, investment-focused stimulus package that will help initiate and sustain a recovery that will serve all Americans.

But to be successful, this package must be seen as more than a short-term stimulus. Rather, it must be viewed as a long-term investment.

That’s why we have come together to call on the U.S. Congress and President Joe Biden’s administration to advance an infrastructure stimulus that not only invests in our cities by creating jobs, but helps our communities adapt to the realities of rising seas, stronger storms, and more frequent flooding.

However, rather than dusting off old infrastructure plans in this effort to rebuild, spending must be strategically targeted at projects that produce multiple benefits.

With last year’s record-breaking hurricane season and the increase in flooding seen throughout many of our communities, we need to invest in projects that are not just shovel ready, but shovel worthy - projects that create jobs, boost the economy, and help communities prepare for future flooding.

Resilient infrastructure checks all of these boxes.

First, it creates jobs. A recent research report by the American Flood Coalition, a nonpartisan group advocating for national solutions to flooding and sea level rise, shows that every $1 million invested leads to 40 new jobs and four new businesses.

These are long-lasting opportunities that are sorely needed in our communities.

Second, investing in resilient infrastructure will boost the economy by pulling us out of the cycle of costly disaster spending, which last year cost the country $95 billion.

In Pensacola just this year, annual flood damages cost a total of $9.4 million, a pricetag that is projected to increase by 54% – to $14.4 million – in the next 30 years.

Put simply, our communities cannot afford to keep suffering these losses. If we continue to ignore failing infrastructure, which is rapidly degrading due to increased flooding, sea level rise, and natural disasters, the social and financial costs will only continue to mount.

As mayors, we’ve been on the frontlines of these challenges, and have done all we can to help our communities adapt.

In Miami, we passed a voter-approved $400 million Miami Forever Bond that invests in climate-adaptive infrastructure like pumps, drainage systems, and improved roads, as well as policies that protect us from storms and sea-level rise, with a focus on driving down the costs of recovery from insurance premiums to reimbursements.

In Charleston, we are experiencing an exponential increase in sunny-day flooding and worsening rainstorm flooding. We are spending $385 million on drainage improvements and flood protection measures throughout the city, including the rebuilding and raising of our low battery seawall to protect our peninsula from the threat of storm surge and rising seas.

In Norfolk, we were awarded a $112 million federal grant from the National Disaster Resilience Competition for the Ohio Creek Watershed Project. This innovative project includes the construction of various landscape and hardscape solutions to reduce flooding, enhance public access to the waterway, and improve connections to the rest of the city.

But, we can’t do it alone; and we can’t view this simply as a short-term stimulus.

We know how much every local job and business matters, so now is the time to think bigger and act smarter.

We’re eager for the opportunity to build infrastructure and boost our economies, create long-term opportunities for our residents, and prepare our communities for the environmental impacts that we see today, as well as for those that are yet to come.

There’s no question that we are currently facing one of the most challenging moments in our country’s history, with the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, tanking economy, and more frequent flooding.

But, these challenging times bring with them a unique opportunity to take swift action to support the citizens, local businesses, and communities across the country that have been crippled by these hardships.

This is not a partisan issue, but an American one, and the decisions we make today will impact our country for decades to come.

By investing in resilient infrastructure, we can guarantee the physical safety and economic stability of our local communities, and work together to ensure that we emerge stronger than ever before.