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First comprehensive plan to deal with climate change in greater Tampa Bay area released

People stand on a heavily damaged dock
Gerald Herbert
People stand on the destroyed bridge to Pine Island as they view the damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian in Matlacha, Fla., Sunday, Oct. 2, 2022. Storms like Ian are more likely because of climate change.

The main objectives of the plan are 11 goals that include everything from strengthening local infrastructure to increasing sustainability.

The region's first comprehensive plan to prepare for the effects of climate change has been released. Now, it's up to local governments to take action.

It's called the Regional Resiliency Action Plan. Included in it are 72 pages of recommendations on how the community can adapt to extreme heat, rising seas and other effects of climate change that are expected.

The main objectives are 11 goals that include everything from strengthening local infrastructure to increasing sustainability.

Sean Sullivan is the executive director of the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council. It released the plan along with 32 members representing local governments in counties from Citrus south to Sarasota.

He said the group has agreed to use accepted science as a baseline for their recommendations.

"We've tried to do with this plan is to show, in fact, that if we agree on, say, a baseline scientific approach, it just makes simple sense despite which side of the aisle you're on," he said. "And then when we brought that approach to our elected officials — and on the Regional Planning Council, there are 27 elected officials and 11 appointed officials — and then three extra officials, they essentially have agreed that the using science makes sense."

"We know our climate is warming. We had the warmest summer on record in the Tampa Bay region this past summer. We had more days over 90 (degrees) than any other summer on record," he said.

Sullivan says he'll visit each of the 32 government groups represented, and ask them to adopt the recommendations.

"To adopt the plan really is a milestone," he said. "It shows, I think, the public that our elected officials are serious about resilience and we're very serious about that here in Tampa Bay."

He says the plan meshes well with state plans to increase resiliency, and state money can be leveraged to help local government implement some of the recommendations.

"We hope that by counties and cities adopting this plan that that will open the door for additional state and federal monies," Sullivan said, "because a plan needs to be more than something that sits on a shelf."

Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long helped launch the initiative as chair of the council.

“Collaborating across jurisdictional lines on the (plan) has taken our regional resiliency ideas and goals and turned them into quantifiable actions,” she said.

Planning chair and vice chair of the St. Petersburg City Council Brandi Gabbard agreed, saying: “Our recent hurricane impacts have only amplified how important it is for cities and counties to work together effectively in making our communities more resilient.”

The Regional Planning Council will begin forming working groups early next year to work towards implementing the plan.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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