Improving our Approach to Flooding in 2020!

Season’s greetings! A lot has happened in our little slice of paradise over the last year. First, I want to congratulate my Commission colleague, Ricky Arriola, for his reelection and Steven Meiner and David Richardson for their electoral victories. I look forward to working with them and the rest of my fellow Commissioners as we continue to pursue what is best for the long-term interests of our City.

I am grateful for my colleagues on the Commission, the City Administration, my Commission Aide, Elias Gonzalez, and most importantly my life partner, Laura Dominguez.

Flooding exacerbated by sea-level rise is a real concern and a scientific fact. As Chairman of the Sustainability and Resiliency Committee (SRC), I want to summarize my latest thinking.

Historically, South Florida has experienced 1 – 2 inches/ decade increases with wide variations in potential future acceleration.  I am proud that we have a significant program in place, our FEMA flood scores are improving, and 70% of voters supported the GO Bonds where investors clamored to lend money to our City for the decades to come. There is still much more we can do, and below are my thoughts on how we can improve:

Miami Beach needs to continue to invest and adapt – “do nothing” is not an alternative.  As Mayor Gelber recently stated:
  • “We can now recalibrate our approach. By the way, we haven’t paused. I don’t have a second thought about taking action. I just want to make sure the actions we’re taking are the right ones. A pause would be reconsidering what we’re doing. I just want to make sure what we’re doing is the right thing.”

While it is clear that we must continue to act, we need to make sure we are executing our neighborhood projects properly. Under my leadership, our SRC Committee strengthened its oversight role in the City’s flooding/stormwater management program and have identified and worked to address major issues with both the Indian Creek and Palm and Hibiscus projects. Our new Inspector General is currently reviewing these projects, and you can hear more about my specific improvement ideas here.

We must change our current one-size-fits-all policy of raising all roads to one uniform level across all neighborhoods.  Private properties put substantially below the street may be adversely impacted in a number of ways:  flooding risk, walkability, aesthetics, costs, etc. Our real-world experiences indicate that road raising is making our neighborhood projects overly complex and extending timelines to unacceptable lengths. Dramatic road raising in a built environment is highly controversial and extraordinarily risky for Miami Beach.  Indeed, the recent FDOT Alton Road project did Not elevate roads and due to pumps and other infrastructure improvements 5th Street – Michigan is much improved.  Finally, this approach is very expensive with substantial costs to the City and private property owners. I hope our new Commission will quickly make important improvements to our road raising policy so that we can accelerate our program.

Our seawalls need much greater attention as we are currently targeting well under 5% of our planned flooding spending towards sea walls.  Moreover, approximately 90% of sea walls are on private property.  We have water “overtopping” and flooding neighbors and streets today and so this must be addressed with much greater urgency.

We need to focus more on short-term solutions for current flooding challenges. Our program will likely take 10+ years to complete, so interim approaches are clearly required. One specific opportunity is to expand the use of temporary pumps that have been used effectively in the City. Temporary pumps, permitted through DERM (Miami-Dade County Department of Environmental Resource Management), have been successfully deployed in many neighborhoods including North Bay Road, Orchard Park, Indian Creek, Taum Waterway, and other North Beach areas.

Going forward, the City also needs to ensure that private properties are becoming more resilient. We need to provide the right mix of requirements, information and tools and even potentially financial support. Commissioner Arriola’s agenda item to create a “Historic Preservation Fund” is an excellent example of such thinking.

Given that our total program (including Water/ Sewer enhancements) is currently estimated to be $1+ billion, we need to be fiscally responsible, identify cost efficiencies and secure additional state/federal funding. To that end, I recently sponsored an item discussing how Miami Beach can pursue mitigation funding from the $633 million allocated to Florida from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

I am proud to round out my second year serving as your Commissioner, and it has been a productive year. Altogether, Elias and I have addressed over 410 resident concerns/issues, and I have attended over 200 community meetings.

Warm wishes to all this holiday season. Looking forward to 2020, and please contact us if we may be of service.

Mark Samuelian