Climate

South Florida City Votes To Secede In Last-Ditch Effort To Avoid Being Swallowed By The Sea

CREDIT: AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

Vehicles negotiate heavily flooded streets as rain falls, Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014, in Miami Beach, Fla. Certain neighborhoods regularly experience flooding during heavy rains and extreme high tides.

One small city in South Florida is willing to secede from the state if it means the threat of sea level rise will finally be taken seriously.

The city commission of South Miami, FL — a city that sits just west of the University of Miami in Coral Gables — passed a resolution this week that calls for Florida to be split into a North Florida and a South Florida, a creation of an additional state that would allow South Florida to take climate change preparation and adaptation into its own hands.

“It’s very apparent that the attitude of the northern part of the state is that they would just love to saw the state in half and just let us float off into the Caribbean,” South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard said. “They’ve made that abundantly clear every possible opportunity and I would love to give them the opportunity to do that.”

Under the northern border of South Florida would include the counties of Brevard, Polk, Orange, Pinellas, and Hillsborough, which would mean drawing the new state line north of Orlando, Tampa and Clearwater. South Florida would encompass 24 counties and total about 23,000 square miles, an area that houses 67 percent of Florida’s current population.

The resolution — like all other secession attempts in the U.S., apart from the one in 1775 — isn’t likely to make it very far. In order for Florida to actually split into two states, the resolution would have to be approved by Florida’s state legislature and by the U.S. Congress. But the three South Miami councilmembers who voted the resolution into being still think the subject of sea level rise is serious enough to make the secession statement.

The resolution singled out Southeast Florida’s particular vulnerability to sea level rise in its reasons behind its call for secession from the current state of Florida. It noted sea level rise estimates of three to six feet by the end of this century, and stated that, because much of South Florida is low-lying and sits on porous bedrock, even a small amount of sea level rise can easily cause flooding and could pose a threat to the region’s groundwater.

“South Florida’s situation is very precarious and in need of immediate attention,” the resolution states. “Many of the issues facing South Florida are not political, but are now significant safety issues.”

Despite these dangers, however, the resolution notes that Florida’s capitol hasn’t been receptive to South Florida lawmakers’ concerns about sea level rise. South Florida has done what it can to independently tackle the threat — four South Florida counties have formed the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Compact, which has created a projection for sea level rise in the region and a Regional Climate Action Plan that is adaptable to each county’s needs. But these local efforts aren’t enough without support from the state, which is why the South Miami council members who voted for secession want to create a new governing body in South Florida.

“We have to be able to deal directly with this environmental concern and we can’t really get it done in Tallahassee,” South Miami Vice Mayor Walter Harris said. “I don’t care what people think — it’s not a matter of electing the right people.”

Harris may have given up hope on his state’s capitol, but over the last few months, climate change has become a hot-button issue in Florida’s gubernatorial race. Gov. Rick Scott has refused to take a firm stance on whether or not he thinks climate change is real and man-made, while Democratic challenger Charlie Crist has been open about his belief in climate change and its threat to Florida.

And though the voting to create a new state might seem extreme, South Florida isn’t the only region in recent years to consider secession. Last year, 11 Colorado counties, fed up over state regulations on gun control, agriculture and energy development, tried to create a new state, an attempt that failed. This year, a northern California county voted to secede and create the new state of Jefferson, a would-be state that was first proposed in 1941. Residents in western Maryland also pushed for secession this year, saying they had grown fed up over the state’s Democratic leadership.