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Aug 19th
Day of Reckoning PDF Print E-mail
Written by Kim Ogren, BT Contributor   
August 2019

Only we can save us from our leaders

Pix_GoingGreen_8-19 think it’s safe to say, from the looks of things, that Florida’s grand experiment with requiring local jurisdictions to build capacity in their public facilities -- their sanitary sewer, solid waste, drainage, and potable water facilities -- before adding new growth has proved to be wholly inadequate.

Concurrency was introduced in 1986 to ensure that new development be approvable only once infrastructure is in place to handle the impacts of that development.

There’s more than one problem with this idea.

First, instead of slowing the rate of growth to a more manageable pace, one in which we could see how things played out, the requirement prompted engineers to select from their catalogues of infrastructure parts the very items that would accommodate growth.

Thus, in the case of water infrastructure, they would choose the biggest pipes and pumps that promised the largest capacity for a specified lifetime. The regulation actually accelerated development and the extension of facilities to new places, where all the financial and engineering models are easier to run, instead of encouraging upgrades to existing areas.

The second problem is that the specifications only made sense in the lab, free from changes in the assumptions in the models, and separate from the old parts they would actually be tied into. The bright shiny new parts were likely considered under static conditions, and the requirements that perpetuated their purchase proved no match for the laws of nature, where the variables are dynamic and interdependent.

The irony is that this nearly useless (and misused) concurrency requirement is about the only thing left in Florida’s once visionary comprehensive planning program. While we cling to this inadequate tool, there has been a systematic dismantling, decades long, of the state’s role in reviewing and managing resources, like water, that hold regional or statewide significance.

The state used to weigh in to remind a city or other local jurisdiction that, yes, new development is a major tax generator, but that it’s not always worth putting a coastal resource at risk for it. Water management districts and regional planning councils helped, too, by looking at the wider context for local decisions about growth.

Today all of that regional and state substantive review and collaboration has vanished, and the financial support that would coordinate the work is gone as well. Local politicians now make decisions, and there is little safety net at the regional or state level in the event that those decisions are bad.

In a final blow, Gov. Ron DeSantis has just signed a new law that chills the public’s ability to challenge decisions that are inconsistent with a comprehensive plan. This means that if you and your neighbors challenge a development order and you lose, you may have to pay the other side’s legal fees.

So where does this leave us? We have good news and bad news. There’s just one thing left, and we need to be laser-focused on it: locally elected and appointed leadership.

No one is going to save us from our local leaders’ bad decisions anymore. You and I, local residents, will be bearing all the costs associated with them. On its website, Miami-Dade County boasts that it has among the lowest water and sewer rates in the nation. But we can’t expect to have what we and all of the Waterkeeper organizations around the world describe as fishable, swimmable, drinkable water if we are not willing to pay for it.

Miami Waterkeeper (under it’s prior name Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper) sued on our behalf to force the county to consider climate change in infrastructure plans and has taken other legal action to repair “unlawful” leaks that the county had ignored until the shameful video evidence surfaced in July 2017.

All the while, the rising saltwater intrudes and the urban floodwaters overwhelm. It’s obvious we are beyond what we can manage, and yet the developments keep coming. Local leaders and decision makers no longer have the backstops that used to protect them, and their staffs are working with diminished resources.

Local leaders need to snap out of it. The dazed and confused look is not a good one. We need people with vision now. An intervention. Consider the following:

WHEREAS, our regulations concerning adequate public facilities are ineffectual at balancing development to ensure the protection of our natural resources; and

WHEREAS, there is ample evidence that our current infrastructure failures are putting public health and economic and social resiliency at risk; and

WHEREAS, the costs of the damage are only increasing; and

WHEREAS, only local government leadership will save our investments:

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, the City Commission instruct the city staff to develop performance measures that describe the desired conditions that must be attained before approving one more thing that doesn’t contribute to improving the health of our waters.

 

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