Build That Wall … in Florida?

A new study shows the exorbitant costs of protecting our coastlines from the climate crisis — and who will pay the bill

September 9, 2019

10:54 am

A costly wall at our southern border has gotten its fair share of media attention over the last few years, with estimates running as high as $70 billion. Another component of that story concerned who would pay for it.

Now thanks to the potentially devastating effects of the climate crisis — particularly rising sea levels — that figure is roughly equivalent to the barrier we’d have to erect just to protect one state. And the taxpayers for that state will have to cover the costs, not the polluters who are contributing to the crisis.

Of the U.S.’s 48 contiguous states, Florida has by far the longest coastline. A new study found that building seawalls to protect the Sunshine State’s 1,350 miles of coastline would cost taxpayers there almost $76 billion, to build 9,243 miles of seawalls

As CNN noted, that is nearly double the next most expensive state, Louisiana ($36 billion).

The study, conducted by the Center for Climate Integrity, found that Jacksonville, the state’s most populous city (and the largest city by area in the contiguous U.S.), would be the nation’s most expensive city to protect (nearly $3.5 billion). Florida has two other cities in the Top 10 (#4 Marathon, $1.5 billion, and #9 Tampa, $938 million); the second-most expensive county to protect (Monroe, $11 billion); and two of the U.S.’s Top 10 most expensive Congressional districts (#3 FL-2 and #10 FL-26, at a combined $32 billion).

The Center for Climate Integrity put things in perspective, noting that, with regard to the $75.9 billion price-tag for building more than 9,000 miles of seawalls, the state’s overall operating budget — that would be for everything it needs — was $85 billion in 2018.

“At present,” the study concluded, “taxpayers and property owners are on the hook for 100% of climate adaptation costs. Unless something changes, communities will be forced to cut existing public services or raise taxes as these costs continue to rise.”

“The study provides a baseline estimate for one set of climate adaptation and resilience expenses,” add the authors, as to why they conducted the study, “to inform a more robust debate on who should pay these costs: taxpayers or polluters.”

As Jacksonville public radio station WJCT reports, though, some look at the report with skepticism. Erik Olsen, a local coastal engineer in Jacksonville, calls the report “pretty sensationalistic.” Olsen, WJCT notes, is a member of Jacksonville’s Adaptation Action Area Working Group, “which is exploring policies to protect Jacksonville from an assumed two-feet rise in sea level by 2060.” Still, Olsen believes sea-level rise is a serious threat to Jacksonville.

“When will elected officials begin to acknowledge that this is a phenomenon,” he asked, “just like schools, just like redevelopment —  that this is a phenomenon that the city of Jacksonville needs to address?”

Though Florida will be more costly than any other contiguous state to protect, the other 21 states (plus Washington, D.C.) with coastlines that the study looked at will not have it easy. The overall projected costs for building seawalls to protect all of the coastlines for the contiguous states is projected to be more than $400 billion in total.

Downtown Jacksonville. (Photo by Wade Austin Ellis, Unsplash)

Subscribe to get notified of our weekly blog posts.