A new Florida law aimed at anticipating and adapting to the likelihood of rising seas and increased coastal flooding will require project-specific sea-level impact projection (SLIP) studies for publicly funded coastal construction. The law, which goes into effect in 2021, will require “state-financed constructors”—defined as the public entity “that commissions or manages” a construction project with state funding—to procure these SLIP studies as part of the project’s approval process. To be overseen by the Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP), the law specifically applies to “major structures” built in Florida’s coastal building zone, which includes several designated regions abutting most the state’s coastlines.

The state law prescribes numerous requirements for the new SLIP studies, which must “use a systematic, interdisciplinary and scientifically accepted approach.” Studies must also assess damage risks from flooding, inundation and wave action, taking into account the increased storm risk anticipated over the next 50 years, or the expected life of the structure, whichever is less.

Also to be considered by the study are “potential public safety and environmental impacts resulting from damage” to the structure, such as leakage of pollutants and other hazards. Further, the SLIP studies must “provide alternatives for the coastal structure’s design and siting,” and the impacts of alternatives to the project’s risk factors.

Coastal Impacts Coming
The state is facing varying degrees of impacts from sea-level rise, according to projections from different entities. The Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact Sea Level Rise Work Group, for instance, estimates that sea-level rise in southeast Florida could be as much as 6.75 ft by 2100, while the Tampa Bay Climate Science Advisory Panel anticipates a rise of 8.5 ft by the end of the century. Those numbers compare to global estimates by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s estimate of up to 2.75 ft by 2100.

An analysis of S.B. 178 prepared by the Florida Senate notes that “the area at risk from one foot of projected sea-level rise contains more than 65,000 homes and 121,909 people,” while roughly 76% of the state’s population live within its 35 coastal counties. The Senate analysis further notes some estimates that say Florida could lose more than $300 billion in property value by 2100.

As enacted, the law is a major improvement over a previously proposed version that “would have created a logistical nightmare” because it would have applied to privately funded coastal construction and required contractors to secure the SLIP studies, says Carol Bowen, chief lobbyist for Associated Builders and Contractors of Florida, which supports the new law.

If the state had instead required contractors to secure the studies, it would have created a riskier situation for those firms, considering the possibility that the project owner could decide to cancel the project.

As adopted, the new law seems “workable,” Bowen says. But much will depend upon DEP’s enactment of the regulation.

“You don't want a scenario where that study comes back and is used against (the project) somehow,” she adds. “So the issue now becomes what do they do? How does DEP handle the formulation of the study, and is it implemented uniformly? I think that's key.”