Mayor Gimenez Bows to Environmentalists, Creates Sea-Level-Rise Position

Earlier this week, environmentalists raised a sea-level-rise rallying cry with Miami-Dade County commissioners. Their demands: a $500,000 pool for engineering solutions and a new “chief resiliency officer” for the county who would act as a point person for new infrastructure to keep Miami dry.

“The eyes of the world are looking to see what Miami-Dade County will do to build climate resilience and protect us and our homes from drainage system failures, saltwater intrusion, and other climate-related disruptions,” the environmentalists declared in a letter sent to officials. “Effective engineering solutions are needed now.”

Last night, County Mayor Carlos Gimenez and commissioners listened. In a new $6.8 billion budget that passed last night, they affirmed a plan very similar to the one local environmentalists suggested: $75,000 will pay the salary of the new resiliency officer with a $300,000 budget to tackle sea-level rise. That's $200,000 less than environmentalists proposed.

The move comes after weeks of mounting pressure. Environmentalists protested the first budget hearing earlier this month, pointing to the size of the county’s sustainability office, which is ten times smaller than Broward’s similar division of environmental planning and community resilience, which has four full-time employees. 

This week, Gimenez attended a climate change summit in Los Angeles, where he declared that county government “continues to be committed to making the necessary investments” on environmental issues. Gimenez was the only county mayor invited.

According to his spokesperson, Michael Hernandez, Gimenez returned with a “renewed focus” on the environment. He says this push wasn’t reactionary because of environmental groups' pressure but that the $300,000 only recently became available.

“Mayor Gimenez shares their concerns and understands from a global perspective as chief executive officer of a county government of 26,000 employees,” Hernandez tells New Times. “Now, as the fiscal outlook for Miami-Dade has improved, funds have been allocated to areas of need, this being one of the top concerns for Gimenez and residents. We are ground zero in the U.S. (quite possibly the world) for climate change.”

South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard also signed the letter to commissioners. He’s also a biology professor at Florida International University. He fears that if the county doesn’t begin implementing engineering solutions now, there’ll be financial repercussions down the line.

“We in South Florida need to change our building codes and start our infrastructure improvements now so we can show the credit agencies we are ahead of the curve and not behind it,” Stoddard says. “If we delay, we won’t have the 30 years we need to pay back the bonds, and we won’t be able to afford the projects we can afford if we act today.”
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jess Swanson is the news editor at New Times. She graduated from the University of Miami and has a master's degree from the Columbia University School of Journalism.
Contact: Jess Swanson