Sea-level wor­ries spur de­mand for ser­vices

Palm Beach Daily News - - OPINION - By KIM­BERLY MILLER

From the frothy as­sault of the At­lantic Ocean to the placid tres­pass of the Lake Worth la­goon, sea level rise is a mount­ing con­cern for South Florida prop­erty buy­ers who are turn­ing to sci­ence, and pri­vate com­pa­nies, for guid­ance.

The 3-year-old startup Coastal Risk Con­sult­ing was co-founded by the for­mer di­rec­tor of Florida At­lantic Univer­sity’s Cen­ter for En­vi­ron­men­tal Stud­ies, and has as­sem­bled an ad­vi­sory board of re­spected at­mos­phere ex­perts from the Univer­sity of Mi­ami, Pennsylvania State Univer­sity and Florida In­ter­na­tional Univer­sity.

Jupiter, a Sil­i­con Val­ley firm launched this year by en­trepreneur Rich Sorkin to an­a­lyze the ef­fects of cli­mate change on in­di­vid­ual prop­er­ties, in­cludes a No­bel Prize win­ner; a for­mer leader at the Na­tional Sci­ence Foun­da­tion; and Todd Stern, the chief ne­go­tia­tor for the United States on the 2015 Paris Cli­mate Agree­ment.

The com­pa­nies see a mar­ket in sea-level-rise con­sul­ta­tion, but also other chal­lenges linked to cli­mate change that tra­di­tional prop­erty in­spec­tors and build­ing codes don’t con­sider: hur­ri­cane storm surge, flood­ing rains and ex­treme tem­per­a­ture changes.

When seas could rise 10 inches by 2030 and up to 26 inches by 2060 above 1992 lev­els, the ba­sis of in­quiries is of­ten whether buy­ing a beach house will be an as­set or li­a­bil­ity to fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

“I just think as a prac­ti­cal mat­ter, this is some­thing peo­ple should do,” said home­buyer Kevin Kennedy, who or­dered four re­ports from Coastal Risk Con­sult­ing on Palm Beach County prop­er­ties along the In­tra­coastal and on the ocean. “The results dis­cour­aged me from pur­chas­ing two of them.”

Kennedy said he was sur­prised to learn the In­tra­coastal homes were more vul­ner­a­ble to sea level rise than a con­do­minium he liked on the ocean.

“My in­stinct was ab­so­lutely wrong,” he said. “I started look­ing at prop­er­ties on the ocean and [In­tra­coastal], and got the same re­port done. Be­lieve it or not, the prog­no­sis was dra­mat­i­cally bet­ter.”

He bought the ocean­front condo.

Help­ing out prop­erty own­ers with data

Coastal Risk Con­sult­ing, which raised $2 mil­lion to de­velop soft­ware to eval­u­ate in­di­vid­ual parcels for flood­ing, is on the cusp of prof­itabil­ity, Pres­i­dent Al­bert Slap said.

The Plan­ta­tion-based firm has coun­seled myr­iad in­ter­ests from in­di­vid­ual home­buy­ers to well-heeled is­land de­vel­op­ers and en­tire towns. Prop­erty fixes can be as sim­ple as self-in­flat­ing bar­ri­ers avail­able at home im­prove­ment stores to pricey per­ma­nent block­ades against ris­ing tides.

“Some­thing like rais­ing your crawl space vents could buy you an­other 15 years,” said Brian McNoldy, a se­nior re­search as­sis­tant at the Univer­sity of Mi­ami’s Rosen­stiel School of At­mo­spheric Sci­ence, who is an un­paid ad­vi­sor to Coastal Risk Con­sult­ing. “They try to give clients an idea of pos­si­ble fixes, high-pri­or­ity items, and rec­og­nize peo­ple don’t have an end­less sup­ply of money.”

The so­lu­tion for one coastal home­owner was an el­e­vated, curved sea wall hid­den in land­scap­ing that she in­sisted not ob­struct the view from her infinity-edge pool.

“There’s no one size fits all,” Slap said. “What one home needs may be very dif­fer­ent than what the house right next door needs.”

Why sea level rise is such a con­cern

On Mon­day, the Union of Con­cerned Sci­en­tists re­leased a re­port on ris­ing sea lev­els tar­get­ing prop­er­ties that could see in­creased tidal flood­ing un­der the worst-case sce­nario pre­sented by the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

It found that 2,400 Palm Beach County homes could face a month’s worth of tidal flood­ing each year by 2045. In 2100 that bal­loons to 60,026 prop­er­ties worth a stag­ger­ing $36.2 bil­lion in to­day’s dol­lars.

Statewide, about 64,000 homes are at risk of chronic flood­ing by 2045. The re­port de­fines chronic flood­ing as an av­er­age of 26 flood events or more per year, even in the ab­sence of ma­jor storms.

By 2100, Mon­day’s re­port says, 1 mil­lion Florida homes will be at risk. That’s about 10 per­cent of the state’s cur­rent res­i­den­tial prop­er­ties and 40 per­cent of the na­tion’s homes at risk.

Florida Cli­ma­tol­o­gist David Zier­den em­pha­sizes the re­port is the most dire fore­cast, seven times higher than the global rate of sea level rise of 3 mm per year.

Still, the South­east Florida Re­gional Com­pact on Cli­mate Change says South Florida’s sea level rise could be faster than the global rate be­cause of changes in the Gulf Stream cur­rent.

The com­pact is pro­ject­ing 6 to 10 inches of sea level rise by 2030 and 14 to 26 inches by 2060 (above the 1992 mean sea level).

In the long term, the com­pact projects 31 to 61 inches of sea level rise by 2100, and cau­tions that long-term con­struc­tion projects with life­spans of 50 or more years should be built based on the up­per curve of pre­dic­tions.

“We just think the pru­dent thing to do is build to higher el­e­va­tions,” said Cody Crow­ell, manag­ing di­rec­tor for the Palm Beach-based Fris­bie Group, which is a client of Coastal Risk Con­sult­ing. “Some of the build­ings we spend a lot of time, money and en­ergy work­ing on, we hope will be around for the next 100 years.”

But build­ing to a higher el­e­va­tion means taller build­ings, which doesn’t al­ways sit well with neigh­bors or plan­ning boards.

South Florida cities have spent tens of mil­lions of dol­lars in plan­ning and con­struc­tion ef­forts to keep the sea at bay.

Mi­ami Beach’s am­bi­tious plan to raise roads, in­stall pumps and redo wa­ter mains gained in­ter­na­tional attention for its bullish ap­proach to com­bat flood­ing tides. But just last month, a com­mu­nity slated for the next el­e­vated road pro­ject had the plan sacked.

Some neigh­bors told Mi­ami Beach com­mis­sion­ers they didn’t need the mod­i­fi­ca­tion and were con­cerned about whether wa­ter from a higher road would flood their homes.

“We’re see­ing very, very dif­fer­ent ap­proaches from just ig­nor­ing it and think­ing maybe it will go away to some places that are be­ing very proac­tive want­ing to con­front it,” said David Tit­ley, a me­te­o­rol­ogy pro­fes­sor at Pennsylvania State Univer­sity and an un­paid ad­vi­sor for Coastal. “We have big chal­lenges as a na­tion, but they can be ad­dressed.”

Coastal Risk Con­sult­ing charges $199 for a ba­sic as­sess­ment of a sin­gle-fam­ily home. A com­mer­cial build­ing costs $499. From that ini­tial re­port, clients can choose to go more in depth for higher fees.

Last week, Coastal se­nior staff sci­en­tist Hi­lary Stevens vis­ited the for­mer Charley’s Crab restau­rant that was bought in April by the Fris­bie Group. Crow­ell said the com­pany wants to put five homes on the ocean­front land and is work­ing with Coastal on a de­tailed re­view.

“The de­mand is so pow­er­ful to be on the wa­ter,” Stevens said. “But this is a clas­sic sit­u­a­tion where when this area was de­signed it was not built to han­dle what we are likely to see 30, 40, 50 years from now.”

Richard Graulich / Daily News

Hi­lary Stevens, a se­nior staff sci­en­tist with Coastal Risk Con­sult­ing, stands across from the site of the for­mer Charley’s Crab restau­rant on A1A on Wed­nes­day.

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