For the past 60 years, the Tampa Bay Planning Council has convened the region, from Citrus to Manatee County, to support decision-making, economic development, preparedness and – perhaps most importantly for this slice of the Florida Gulf Coast – environmental resilience.
The Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council (TBRPC) and its Regional Resilience Coalition are bringing together a “who’s who” of the region’s business, political and environmental leaders for its second Tampa Bay Regional Resilience Leadership Summit. Held April 5-6 at the Hilton Carillon Park Hotel in St. Petersburg, the event will include the unveiling of the final Regional Resilience Action Plan (RRAP), a Tampa Bay Partnership Economic Resilience Report, the 28and Annual Awards Ceremony for the Future of the Region and 60and council anniversary celebration.
In honor of the key event, TBRPC Executive Director Sean Sullivan and Regional Resiliency Coalition Co-Chair Janet Long, also Pinellas County Commissioner, met with the Catalyst to discuss work and concerns summit showcases. Sullivan said the idea for the council came from former St. Petersburg Mayor Herman Goldner, who realized the region could accomplish much more if it worked together rather than on a county or city basis. That idea, Sullivan said, led to Florida’s first regional planning council.
“We have accomplished a lot; there is a whole litany of accomplishments that we can mention,” he said. “But specifically today, resilience, emergency management, economic development, environmental stewardship – those are really our highlighted areas.”
Sullivan added that the council only succeeds when elected officials like Long offer political support and direction. Rep. Ben Diamond, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, St. Pete Mayor Ken Welch, and Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard are among many local civic leaders scheduled to speak at the event.
Long said the summit raises awareness of environmental concerns throughout the region and organizers are focused on presenting programming in a way that educates. She said it also provides insight into how communities in Tampa Bay are responding to common issues in the region, noting that a major storm would likely affect the jurisdiction of the council’s six counties.
Long referenced Hurricane Michael, a Category 5 storm that decimated the Florida Panhandle with sustained winds of 161 mph in October 2018. She said a similar storm would be “a trillion times more damaging” in this region of the state.
“Just because we have so many huge resorts and a lot of our economy is built on how our coastline was built,” she said. “It’s devastating to a community, and if it happened along the coast, I don’t know how we would recover very quickly.”
Sullivan called the release of the Tampa Bay Partnership economic report a highlight of the first day of the summit. Brian Auld, President of the Tampa Bay Rays and Chair of the Resilience Task Force, will lead the presentation. Sullivan said it made sense for the two organizations to present the report at the summit, and that it offers perspective on the far-reaching impacts of climate and resilience.
In addition to the storms, Long said an increase in droughts and heat is also having devastating effects on the local economy. She noted that increasing wildfires and temperatures reaching 100 degrees are negatively affecting key regional industries such as tourism and construction, and making it more difficult to maintain the region’s many parks.
Many people don’t realize the effects of warming temperatures, she said, due to the ever-present need for air conditioning in Florida. She added that the relief provided by air conditioning depends on fuel and electricity, and significant weather events disrupt access to both.
“It’s also not lost on me that this (increasing temperatures) is having a huge impact on our health…” Long said.
Long said she has “five of the most beautiful grandchildren you can imagine,” and one of them recently blessed her with her first great-grandchild. The matriarch said she thinks of them before making policy decisions, and making sure she allows them the opportunity to benefit from the region’s wealth of natural resources is one of her biggest concerns.
People, Long said, make decisions quickly without thinking about unintended consequences that will later affect future generations. She said she has witnessed the consequences of poor decision-making and is old enough – and hopefully wise enough – to realize the benefits of planning for the future rather than the moment.
Sullivan echoed Long’s comments, saying living in such a beautiful part of the country comes with an added responsibility to protect the surrounding environment and its current and future residents. Rising sea levels, warmer summer days, increased storm surges and more frequent and intense storms are undeniable, he said, and the key is to prepare now. .
For Sullivan, one of his biggest environmental concerns is that locals are becoming complacent after going a century without a major storm making landfall. He said that 101 years ago a hurricane hit Tarpon Springs causing massive damage to an area of 400,000 people.
“Today there are 3.8 million people in the region,” Sullivan said. “A direct hit from a Cat 5 would be catastrophic – not only in terms of loss of life, but it would wipe out our economy as we know it.
“So we have a responsibility to protect, to help governments and businesses become more resilient.”
For more information on the 2022 Tampa Bay Regional Resilience Leadership Summit, visit the website here.