The city of Pensacola is getting a grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, for the city's Resilient Coastlines Program.
The $75,000 grant is expected to fund what the city calls “an aggressive and overarching climate planning objective” to address underlying climate change threats. It will pay for a vulnerability assessment of the program approved by a task force studying climate change.
“The time frame will basically be about a year; it will go through July 2021; some of the components will include public workshops at city council workshops,” said Cynthia Cannon, the city’s assistant planning director, who applied for the grant.
The process is an annual grant cycle, and always competitive.
“There’s a list that FDEP announced last month [of] the cities that were awarded these grants,” said Cannon. “I want to say out of the state of Florida, there might have been 20+ grant awards. So, we’re very excited to be among that list.”
Downtown Pensacola and areas to the southwest of Bayou Grande are some of the most vulnerable to flooding related to increasing sea levels. The project will also help the city’s planning process move from conceptual to actual data. That, in turn, is expected to lead to recommendations for policy structures and decision-making.
“[Mayor Grover Robinson] is committed to recommendations from the task force, and fulfilling those recommendations,” said City Administrator Keith Wilkins. “We’ve been steadily making progress; this grant really helps us fulfill multiple points within those recommendations.”
Wilkins adds that they have been working on bringing attributes into the city – including the hiring of a sustainability coordinator, Mark Jackson, who will have a broad range of environmental responsibilities.
“To help the city with our greenhouse gas emissions; calculating those and their contributions to sea level rise,” Wilkins said. “To help us as an organization calculate and improve our greenhouse gas emissions, our energy efficiencies and energy usage. We also had recommendations from the task force for climate change – which this very specifically addresses.”
However, some local environmentalists believe the grant and the plans don’t go far enough. Christian Wagley, with the group Healthy Gulf, welcomes the money and Pensacola’s increased work in planning for sea change. But—
“The city is still really lacking in taking action on the front side of this; the city needs to transition to renewable energy as rapidly as possible,” said Wagley. “To a level of 30% by 2030 and 100% by 2040.”
That was the recommendation of a city adaptation and mitigation task force set up in 2018.
“That task force was set up specifically with those two terms – mitigation and adaptation both in their name – so that both would be treated equally,” Wagley said. “And so far the city is really only doing the adaptation side of things – adapting to the changes – as opposed to the mitigation side of things. Conserving energy and switching to renewable energy, which is what helps to prevent [climate change] in the first place.”
Ten Florida cities have declared renewable energy goals – the closest one to Pensacola is Tallahassee. Those goals are set for anywhere between 2030 and 2050. When Wagley served on Mayor-elect Grover Robinson’s transition team, he pushed for a similar, aggressive renewable energy goal.
“Along the lines of 100% renewables by 2040 or so,” said Wagley. “I’m really excited to see this project for the city, but we’ve got to start spending more time on the mitigation side of things and that transition to renewable energy, and not just in adaptation.”
More information about the Florida Resilient Coastlines Program – including a list of grant recipients – is at www.floridadep.gov.