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Meet 3 local resiliency officers designing plans to combat climate change in the Tampa Bay Area

Learn what they are doing and why

Like members of a fine orchestra, the Tampa Bay Area's resiliency officers hold prime seats among those working to prepare this area for climate change mitigation to keep people, roadways, and real estate safe.

The average citizen may not even notice subtle changes along the way since much of the work involves data, calculations, and future plans, but it's happening.

C. J. Reynolds, director of resilience and engagement for the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, acts as maestro, coordinating with her teammates the efforts of 31 local governments in a region-wide resilience coalition. Whit Remer, the City of Tampa's sustainability and resilience officer, and Hank Hodde, sustainability and resilience coordinator for Pinellas County, are two holding down first chairs in this coordinated symphony.

They are all working to make this area a more comfortable place to live as sea-level rises, storms increase in intensity, and homes are threatened more by flooding.

Each of them has experience working with the three-legged stool of the environment, stewardship, and governance to resolve issues that affect communities and air and water quality projects that ultimately reduce the region's carbon footprint.

Strategic environmental projects

In Tampa, Mayor Jane Castor made good on her promise to put an executive-level position in place, so all decisions on projects and policies are viewed through the lens of sustainability and resilience, Remer says.

"We are doing things as simple as banning the use of Styrofoam at city events and property to big projects like exploring water reuse as an opportunity to provide sustainable minimum flows on the Hillsborough River." The minimum flows ensure the river remains healthy, while the water reuse project is an effort to use a finite resource rather than simply letting it flow into Tampa Bay.

The city is also working on several strategic environmental projects, Remer says. "We are making sure we identify the highest and best use of green space, particularly through innovative stormwater management that can provide multiple co-benefits."

The city is also working on several more traditional environmental projects, Remer says. "We have a lot going on in that space."

Remer has his law degree from Loyola University in New Orleans, where he specialized in environmental land-use law. He also holds a degree in urban planning from the University of New Orleans. Both he and Hodde have worked in positions focused on making housing more resilient to natural disasters.

He is developing a Climate Action and Resilience Plan, tackling stormwater management, sea-level rise, and working on a plan to transition the city to 100% renewable energy by 2045.

Starting with a resiliency action plan

In Pinellas County, Hodde has been busy with the beginning phases of a full-blown resiliency action plan. "That is one of the first things I was directed to manage. Within the first week, they dedicated funding to bring on a consultant to support and create the action plan. It is outside technical expertise to do further evaluation and set a plan moving forward."

There were already other groups addressing climate change when Hodde took the job, including the One Bay Initiative and the Tampa Bay Estuary Program.

"There has been a lot of momentum and during the past two or three years, things have really started to garner support and traction for further action and investment and accountability," Hodde says. "We have done a lot about risk or vulnerability in relation to water quality. We could do a better job on our carbon footprint and the application of new technologies like automation of our fleet, but also renewable energy."

Hodde, whose father worked as a contractor after Hurricane Andrew in what is now Miami-Dade County, got his undergraduate degree in residential sciences and construction and property management. He was on the ground rebuilding homes after Hurricane Ike in Houston before earning his Master's degree in Environmental Management. Part of the work he has done involves the "hardened environment" and coastal sustainability.

Regional coordination underway

With the regional planning council, Reynolds rarely has a day that is not full with meetings and projects.

"We are working on planning tools and coordinating workshops every week," she says. "It's good stuff and I think with the movement to online meetings because of COVID-19, we are actually able to be more effective and work with even more people."

Before coming to the planning council, Reynolds worked at the University of South Florida within its College of Marine Science. She worked with scientists and was their liaison in coordinating projects involving local governments and climate change. She wrote grants to address flooding and risk issues.

"I have always been focused on the wonkier, more scientific issues and larger behavioral change projects," said Reynolds, who holds a Bachelor's degree in journalism. "I’ve got 30 years experience in risk management and communication, how to engage different audiences to discuss very challenging issues.” And that is now what she does full-time.

“My role is to coordinate meetings with regional local governments and their resilience staffs, the planning staff, anybody working on flooding to investment to data. I am one of many to put the big issues together.”

Generally, she says, she talks with folks at the counties and cities about their issues.

“How do we evaluate the risks to housing? I wrote a grant to get funding to create a new resource. Local governments need really good vulnerability assessments. A lot of what they have been doing is looking at critical infrastructure. Every month there is a new report. How, as a local government, can we use a consistent methodology to evaluate what homes are at risk?”

Consistency among the various partners in addressing climate change is vital, Reynolds says. And that is something these professionals are working to achieve daily.

Original story by Yvette C. Hammett found here


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