By August 30, 2017, Irma had transformed from a mere tropical storm system off the coast of Africa into a Category 5 Hurricane with South Florida appearing in its sights.  With only days before possible landfall in Miami, the entire city, its people, businesses and property owners shifted from their normal daily lives to making rushed emergency preparations for a major hit.  Even though Miami-Dade did not suffer a direct hit, damage to property was wide-spread and significant.  Such is life here in South Florida with the threat of extreme weather events and hurricanes recurring every year.

But as development continues to surge along the coast despite these risks, city and county governments are increasingly looking for answers about how to plan for inevitable impacts from severe weather events.  In particular, local governments are asking how they should not just plan for, but also, pay for smarter, more resilient public infrastructure – such as stormwater drainage systems, elevated roads, and public spaces.  In some coastal cities, like the City of Miami, questions are being raised about how to pay for these kinds of  infrastructure improvements in anticipation of more than just extreme weather, but also sea level rise, and predictable flooding problems linked to “King Tides.”

Months before Irma developed into a hurricane, the City of Miami had already started devising a way to answer these questions.   The big answer that emerged from City Hall and which will now ultimately require voter approval on the November 7, 2017 ballot is a massive $400 million dollar general obligation bond called “Miami Forever.”  Here’s how the “Miami Forever” bond issue is actually worded on the ballot (click here for sample ballot) for next Tuesday, November 7:

Authorizing General Obligation Bonds for Capital Projects in an aggregate principal amount not exceeding $400,000,000.00

Shall the City issue General Obligation Bonds in an aggregate principal amount not exceeding $400,000,000.00 with interest payable at or below the maximum rate allowed by law, payable from ad valorem taxes levied on all taxable property in the City, provided that the capital projects debt millage not exceed the current rate of 0.5935, to:

  • Reduce Flooding Risks; Improve Stormwater Infrastructure;
  • Improve Affordable Housing, Economic Development, Parks, Cultural Facilities, Streets, and Infrastructure;
  • Enhance Public Safety?

As debate has swirled over whether such a bond initiative for the City of Miami is a good idea or not and whether or not other important priorities like affordable housing would also be addressed, the City Manager distributed a memo on July 19 with his subject line stating, “Backup Detail for Miami Forever General Obligation Bond.”

This memo provides background information and a breakdown of how the “Miami Forever” bond funds would be parceled out and on what projects money will be spent.  (The memo is available here).   As the memo explains, the City’s Office of Resilience and Sustainability has been in the process of developing  a Resiliency Plan for the City which requires a significant amount of funding for public infrastructure.   Nearly half of the bond money that would be generated by the “Miami Forever” bond is proposed for infrastructure projects needed to address flood prevention and sea level rise mitigation.   ($192 million).   The City Commission voted 3-2 for “Miami Forever” to be placed on the November 7 ballot.  Now, it’s up to the voters to decide.

Will Florida’s other coastal cities and counties follow the City of Miami’s lead?

That may depend on Tuesday’s vote.