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Resiliency compact members meet for first time

FORT MYERS — Members of the Southwest Florida Regional Resiliency Compact, which includes the Seminole
Tribe, met with experts for the first time Oct. 8 to get a better understanding of how they will work together to prepare for the impact of climate change.

The meeting at Florida Gulf Coast University was designed to explore the organizational structure of the group and
discuss specific goals and objectives of the compact.

The compact is an alliance of 15 local governments including the Seminole Tribe, Charlotte, Lee and Collier counties; the cities of Punta Gorda, Sanibel, Cape Coral, Fort Myers Beach, Fort Myers, Estero, Bonita Springs, Naples, Marco Island and Everglades City; and the Captiva Erosion Prevention District.

Brian Zepeda, Naples Council Liaison, and Jill Horwitz, Heritage and Environment Resources Office’s climate resiliency officer, represented the tribe at the meeting.

“The meeting was a critical moment in the Seminole Tribe of Florida having a leadership seat at the table with other local governments in SW Florida,” Horwitz wrote in an email to the Tribune. “Serving on the leadership committee of the compact advances the tribe’s work in building strong and meaningful relationships with our neighbors. The Southwest Florida region faces many climate change threats, none of which can be fought individually. Knowledge sharing and joint efforts to assess risks and implement solutions with co-benefits across the land, communities and ecosystems will benefit the tribe and all the partners. This first meeting is but one small step in a long process of building the trust and tools we need to collectively succeed.”

The Water School at FGCU hosted the meeting. It was attended by a representative from the FCRC Consensus Center at Florida State University (formerly the Florida Conflict Resolution Consortium), which serves as a facilitator for the compact. FCRC’s role is to use their expertise so compact member jurisdictions can have efficient and effective conversations on issues.

“It’s up to you to decide how the compact will run,” Water School professor Michael Savarese said at the start of the
meeting. “Virtually every coastal county is in a compact or alliance or considering one. With an alliance, many things can happen.”

One function of the compact is to obtain funding for resiliency projects, including funds from the Resilient Florida Grant Program.

“We went from not even being able to say the words climate change to where we are now,” said Noah Valenstein, former Florida Department of Environmental Protection secretary and currently a presidential fellow in water policy at the Water School at FGCU.

“Half a billion dollars in grant money is available and we are trying to get it out the door. The state is very interested in being a leader on this.”

Individual member municipalities and counties of the compact must apply individually for the grant money.

“While the compact may not be the grant entity, the fact that the compact exists is noticed,” Valenstein said. “It’s a signal that the region believes the projects are important. It lifts all the grant requests. [The state sees] the level of cooperation and teamwork that will be successfully implemented because they have a strong support system.”

Objectives of the compact include working together to adapt and mitigate the effects of climate change, develop a
coordinated regional plan to prepare for a rapidly changing environment and create a legislative strategy which recognizes the vulnerabilities in Southwest Florida.

The compact’s guiding principles – which are the guardrails of how to do the work, not what work is done – were
discussed at length. A high emphasis was placed on reaching consensus among the members as they proceed with the work of the compact.

“The strength of the compact lies in what you can all collectively get behind,” said FCRC’s Rafael Montalvo. “Consensus
means something you can all support; not everyone has to love it. That’s our suggestion what you should aim for in your decision making.”

The group hopes those principles and objectives will evolve as it starts focusing on projects and addressing the needs of all residents in the region.

Comments about using other compacts’ experience were made by some members, who suggested the group reach out to other regional compacts in the state. One member said, “We want to hear about all the stuff they tried that didn’t work. We need to look at other models.” Another added, “You learn more from mistakes than from success.”

Members appeared to have reached consensus on the need to communicate with other compacts. Another meeting will be scheduled by the end of the year.

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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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