Monday, January 27, 2020

Flood Zones

There is another nudge pushing people to think about rising seas and the future of low lying islands. It came this weekend in the form of an article in the Key West Citizen discussing meetings scheduled to take place over the next weeks between citizens and Federal Emergency Management Officials who have drawn up new flood zone maps. They hope the appeals process will be finished this year and the new zones will be implemented in 2021. Naturally there was not much reaction to the initial announcement of proposed flood zone changes, but now at the eleventh hour this has become a matter of urgency.
The mapping and subsequent changes in flood insurance rates is extraordinarily complicated apparently but the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been working on this for a while and is ready to meet the citizenry to try to explain why zoning is changing. The newspaper says there are 6900  properties listed in Key West and 2000 of them will see their rating get worse while almost 400 properties get some slight reprieve. The flood insurance premium paid by all these people is expected to rise from eleven million dollars a year to fifteen million across the city as a whole.
 
The property owners lobbying group by now well entrenched with some legal victories to its credit, is among those anxious to redirect insurance rate increases. After all they call themselves Fair Insurance Rates in Monroe -FIRM and these new flood zone maps will be implemented for all Monroe County. The Citizen article focused on Key West for the time being.  It seems to me periodic flooding gradually increasing over time is the future for the Keys, as sea levels are rising in measurable steps and scientists see no reason for that to stop.
Recently there was some consternation when the low lying road on south Sugarloaf Key was discussed as point zero for future high tide flooding. The dozen homes along the road would be cut off every high tide in a couple of decades unless the road is raised a couple of feet at vast expense. Now we face the prospect of paying insurance companies more money to have them cover the increasing risk of destruction by flood. The insurance companies don't argue the merits or morality. They study the numbers, evaluate the odds and charge accordingly. 
Climate change is a hot button issue and provokes nothing but yelling and taunting and powerful emotions. It's not hard to see why! If deniers are correct there is a movement to change the way we live for nefarious unseen purposes that have nothing to do with the climate- just social engineering of some sort. On the other hand the people who believe climate change is a threat to humanity are bound to feel threatened by the other part of the population that is choosing to ignore a clear and very present threat to us all. I don't really think my opinion counts for much especially as I have no offspring and will probably be dead well before 2040 when I will turn 81 if I am still alive.Plus I own no property in the Keys and in retirement will I hope be traveling for a while before I return to reassess my chances of living out my old age here on a boat that will rise with the tide.
I feel very lucky to have found a career in middle age in this strange and changing place. I have held down by some miracle a job with regular hours, benefits and a pension. All this in a town known for vacations partying and temporary labor. And Key West has changed even as I have sat here doing my unseen, unknown job.Twenty years ago people were lamenting the end of Key West as they had known it, yet the town even then was filled with artists and literates and even the street people had personalities. I'm not sure if the town has changed as the doomsayers claim considering that the change probably has occurred in myself.   I have, after all slipped out of middle age into Old Age Pensioner territory but as that happened it feels to me as though Key West has matured too, and is mastering the art of subservience to the dollar at the expense of personality. An entirely good thing when you remember this town is the source of my pension, but also a  source of much grumbling among some literati.  I should probably ask a new arrival bright eyed and bushy tailed how full of shit I am but I don't want to face that reality just yet, I am old and I lament the passing of my time. It is enough for now to come to terms with the fact that it seems ever more real that the map of my world is going to get creased at the edges. I don't need the next generations to tell me that hard fact.
The control tower at Key West Airport is still utterly wrecked and the Hurricane Irma replacement, a trailer is still in operation across the airfield. Money for such an obvious need isn't forthcoming so I wonder how coping with major landmass threats is going to go down with our penny pinching leaders. Little wonder the insurance company actuaries are increasing rates and even less wonder FEMA is expanding likely flood zones. FIRM has a story on its web page outlining plans being drawn up by the Army Corps of Engineers to try to mitigate sea level rise by planting mangroves and building buffers. It smacks of King Canute to me but as there is no funding set aside and the Federal government will only cover two thirds of the cost the whole thing seems unlikely, in the Trump Era, to gain any traction at all.  The bigger question is when do we come together to discuss our options like adults? 
To be astonished insurance rates are going to go up along with sea levels seems rather naive to me. I trust our neighbors in other states will stop nagging about helping us with our hurricanes now that they have tasted the far reaching effects of coastal flooding in their distant lands. Thanks to the changing climate that raises our levels Alaska has soggy tundra, California burns, the inland rivers burst their banks, winter storms freeze more than usual (I'm told) and hurricanes cause billions in damage. Yet we expect insurance rates to do what? Stay the same? That's not how the insurance carriers got to buy up the land to build vast skyscraper monuments to themselves across the planet. They know the odds and they work them. If they tell us premiums are going up you'd better believe there's a reason for it. The real question is do you want to pay the premium and accept with equanimity that you are gambling with short odds by buying expensive land down here?
 
People ask me if prices are dropping, if there is essentially the whiff of panic in the air as the prospect of the Keys sinking takes hold. I can say loud and clear that's not the case. Even if life is more strait laced than it was, and that may be a good thing, life is still good here by any measure. I wouldn't balk about coming to live here if that's what you wanted to do and were able to do it, or willing to make the necessary sacrifices to do it. Every Paradise has it's serpents and the Keys has more than its fair share I dare say. I still prefer to be wiped out by a  hurricane on a  warm September day than lose power in an ice storm in February or drown in a prairie in the Spring.
I'm of the opinion that thinking for yourself is no bad thing. Climate is changing bringing unintended and barely understood consequences with it. Clearly we are not as a species going to do anything to mitigate that and proposing reducing emissions in the Keys (population 75,000) is not going to outweigh all the factories aircraft and major urban agglomerations from polluting as they always have. There are seven billion people contributing to increased carbon emissions, lets not forget. We can do our bit (ban straws) and think about what we should do (not fly, not eat meat, not do everything we know daily), but the other half of the equation is get realistic about what life at sea level means in a  time of global warming. For now we have mostly perfect weather great fishing and a chance at a lifestyle at least somewhat out of the mainstream. But we also have costs and trying to deny one reality while embracing the other just doesn't make sense to me. I shall watch the progress of the appeals and denials of reality with great interest.