Raising Keys roads for sea rise could cost $1.8 billion. Residents may pay much of that bill.
The latest estimate for the elevation of Monroe County's roads from rising sea levels is $ 1.8 billion. And that only covers half of them.
In the most vulnerable county of the most vulnerable state, the conversation about adapting to climate change is all about money. Where can we find it specifically? Residents may not like the answer.
This month, Monroe County's officials voted to look into the possibility of special assessments of neighborhoods that require higher roads and new flood pumps, and the price per home could be as high as $ 5,000 per year. Monroe is also considering the tax hike for all members of the island chain, which would require permission from Monroe lawmakers and voters.
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“I am of the opinion that we will unfortunately have to raise additional funds for the tax ratings for these projects next year. We have to start earning money and say yes, we are going to start paying for it, ”Mayor Michelle Coldiron said at a November meeting where the commission discussed ideas and costs of making money.
This neighborhood of Keys has been flooded for more than 90 days. Is relief coming soon?
Aid cannot come soon enough for residents in neighborhoods that have suffered flooding for up to 60 days in a row this year.
Stephanie Russo, a Key Largo attorney, has seen flooding in her neighborhood since she and her husband bought their home in 2015. On the worst of days, when rain collides with high tide, delivery workers cannot get to the door. The sheriff's officers will not patrol the neighborhood because they are concerned about damage to their cars, although they will come in an emergency.
Russo said she's okay to pay extra for the upgrades needed, but she's unsure if several thousand dollars a year - per house - is feasible.
"I don't know if everyone in my neighborhood can afford the potential assessments we are considering here," she said. "If there is to be a special valuation of an amount, you have to find out how that price can be lowered."
An assembly invoice
Raising roads to withstand sea level flooding has always been expensive. In Miami Beach, elevating streets, installing pumps, and planting landscapes in the small neighborhood of Sunset Harbor cost at least $ 31 million.
In the Keys, it's even more expensive to reach a standard that will keep roads dry during a 2045 high tide, when the sea's rise is expected to be nearly a foot higher. The older roads are usually just asphalt on dirt with no water drainage. New roads require an intricate system of pumps and pipes to drain and treat the water - a higher standard than mainland roads.
In 2018, the estimated cost of raising less than a mile of road was around $ 3 million. Last year that estimate was revised to $ 42 million per mile, leading to an open discussion about how many roads can actually be raised and how many are left to the higher tides.
Recent Monroe County accounting shows that elevating about 155 miles to County Road could cost $ 1.8 billion, which is about $ 11 million per mile. That's definitely a better number than the 2019 estimate, but still out of reach for a relatively small county.
This map shows streets in Big Pine Key that could be part of the first group of streets Monroe County is raising to withstand the King's tide of 2045.
"When I look at our fundraising ability versus our expected spending on sea level rise in years to come, the numbers don't match very well," Monroe County Commissioner David Rice said at the commission meeting in November.
He was greeted by a chorus of "mm-hmms" from the other commissioners who had just heard a presentation on how the county could raise money for the billions of adjustments needed to stay ahead of sea-level rise be.
One option is to increase property taxes, which could be as high as $ 100 million by 2024. Monroe could also extend the soon-to-die 1% infrastructure sales tax, as Miami did with its Miami Forever Bond. The new bond could earn the county another $ 200 million if extended for a full 30 years and would keep taxes flat.
The keys face a huge and looming bill to survive the rise of the sea. You are asking Florida for help
The county could also impose another 1% tax on climate adaptation only, which could raise an additional $ 300 million. This would increase Monroe's taxes to 8.5%, except on grocery or pharmacy bills. It would also require Tallahassee's permission, either this upcoming session or the next session, to put the measure to a national vote.
And then there are more targeted taxes. When Monroe County switched all of its septic tanks to sewer pipes - a $ 1 billion affair - homeowners were billed about $ 500 each, county administrator Roman Gastesi said.
This map shows roads in Duck Key that could be part of the first group of roads Monroe County is raising to withstand the King's tide of 2045.
It's more expensive.
Monroe is considering taxing residents of two of the county's hardest hit areas by flooding, the locations where the first floods will occur: the Twin Lakes neighborhood in Key Largo and the Key Sands neighborhood in Big Pine.
Key Sands has about 400 properties priced at $ 8 million in the area where the roads are being built. Divided among the homeowners, that would be $ 2,664 per year. Monroe applied for a federal grant that would cover three quarters of the cost. If it receives the grant, the price per household could drop to $ 656 per year.
Twin Lakes has fewer residents - roughly 105 - and roughly the same cost at $ 7.3 million. Divided evenly, each homeowner would pay around $ 5,000 per year. Grants would help bring that down to around $ 1,250.
This map shows roads in Key Largo that could be part of the first group of roads Monroe County is raising to withstand the King's tide of 2045.
The first bite of the apple growing road is 78 miles of roads identified by consultants as the most in need. These streets, spread across the top, middle, and bottom buttons, make up about a quarter of the total streets in the county that need to be raised.
The advisors who put the numbers together for the county said they will be back with an estimated price for these roads in the spring. By autumn, Monroe should have a draft plan for raising all flood-prone streets.
This is where the conversation continues about which roads should be saved and which could potentially be abandoned, said Rhonda Haag, chief resilience officer of Monroe County.
"If it's astronomical again at this point, we may have to think of certain projects that we wouldn't get on with," she said.
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