Becker Shareholder and former Senator Ellyn Bogdanoff kicked off the Florida’s Landmark “Always Ready” Resiliency Law Explained roundtable with introductions of Rep. Christine Hunschofsky, Rep. Demi Busatta Cabrera, and DEP Director of the Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection Alex Reed. The event, hosted by the American Flood Coalition and moderated by AFC Florida Director Alec Bogdanoff, explored the history and goals of the legislation, as well as its expected impact on Florida’s approach to flooding and sea level rise.
“This landmark legislation was quite interesting to watch,” said Ellyn Bodganoff. “As a former member of the House and the Senate, I don’t think I have ever witnessed a Speaker priority end up with everyone on the [House and Senate] floors pressing the green button. It was historic, it was bipartisan, and I anticipate many other states will be taking our lead.”
The group proceeded to address the importance of the bill to both coastal and inland communities and how these measures are expected to prepare all communities for both major rainfall events and coastline evolution. Also emphasized was the development of a framework for the future, rooted in scientific data overseen by a new Florida Flood Hub for Applied Research.
“When you think about businesses that want to relocate and where families want to go, you want to make sure that you have an area that’s resilient, where the economy and the state can thrive,” said Rep. Hunschofsky. “There’s no time like the present [to get started], and we have a lot of work to do.”
The “Always Ready” plan includes substantial funding made accessible to every Florida community, regardless of size or economy. Grant applications require a vulnerability assessment to identify critical and/or regionally significant assets within that community, as well as outlining any data gaps that need to be filled before moving forward. Special funding has been allocated to help financially disadvantaged communities perform the necessary vulnerability assessments.
AT A GLANCE: Q&A SEGMENT*
Are there specific types of projects that DEP is looking for?
DIR. REED: Not specifically, but the statute very clearly defines what critical assets we need to be focusing on. There are four categories, which covers everything from transportation to critical infrastructure – waste water, drinking, water from water – to community hospitals, homeless shelters or education centers, and then also our natural cultural and historic resources.
Can communities submit more than one project to DEP? And can they submit a project to multiple programs within DEP?
DIR. REED: Absolutely. They’ll all be ranked separately, and you can certainly apply to other programs. What we’re not likely going to be able to do is match a state grant to state grant; we have to be very careful since some of the funding that went into the trust fund was federal funding
What types of entities can apply for funding? Are regional planning councils eligible?
DIR. REED: We ask that any entity working in a regional resiliency capacity submit an application, so we can prioritize appropriately. The key is that applicants have or are in the process of getting a vulnerability assessment that has identified critical and/or regionally significant assets, and that there is a long-term plan. Projects without that long vision may not get us to where we want to go.
REP. BUSATTA: Part of this legislation was to allow DEP to issue grants to local communities to perform that vulnerability assessment. We recognize that some of our local communities don’t have the money to do a vulnerability assessment, so there is funding there for them.
Does the financially disadvantaged language align with the current definition of the state, and are there plans to really engage with those vulnerable populations?
DIR. BOGDANOFF: There is a reduced cost share for financially disadvantaged communities, and projects specifically focused on supporting disadvantaged communities are actually part of the ranking system.
DIR. REED: Disadvantaged communities are determined with a per capita comparison to communities in the rest of the state. Engaging all communities is going to be critical, so, in addition to having the webpage and the application portal, we have a quarterly coastal resilience forum that was started several years ago. We also know that we need boots on the ground in our communities, and we especially need to reach out to those communities that have not come to the resilient coastline program yet.
Why have water and wastewater been left out of this?
DIR. BOGDANOFF: My understanding is that this legislation is really about flood resilience. There are other budgets out there for water and wastewater i.e. the clean drinking water state revolving loan fund. This was designed to be specifically for resilience projects, so projects can be funded if their water quality is a portion of the flood mitigation project, but this pot of money is not specifically for water quality.
REP. BUSATTA: We definitely wanted to keep the focus of this on resiliency, sea level rise and flooding. There is a lot of money that the state has allocated specifically for water quality projects, but one of the issues that we did allocate funding for was septic-to-sewer conversion which, of course, goes hand-in-hand with water quality.
Where do we go from here?
REP. BUSATTA: As a state representative, we’re here to be a liaison for our local coalitions, communities, and municipalities, and we need to make sure that they know and understand that this exists.
REP. HUNSCHOFSKY: We need to keep this in the forefront, to make it possible for communities to access funding. I think it’s important that not only do we fund this program, but that we also make it user-friendly for everybody to access. I would like to think that this is a first step in legislation and that we’re not building something today that is going to cause a problem 20, 30 years down the road.
To view the complete discussion about Florida’s landmark resiliency law, please click here.
To read the entire Senate Bill 1954, please click here.
To explore the Florida Resilient Coastlines Program, including grant information, please click here.
To learn more about the American Flood Coalition, please click here.
*This is only a sample of the questions and answers featured in the roundtable. For the complete discussion, please view the recording here.