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Tribe takes leadership role in climate resiliency compact

(Editor’s note: This article appeared in the Aug. 31, 2021, Seminole Tribune. The online article has been updated to include the full name of the compact).

The Tribal Council unanimously voted Aug. 6 to join the Southwest Florida Regional Resiliency Compact in a leadership role. The goal of the group, a voluntary consortium of 15 local governments and non-profit organizations, is to work together toward solutions to climate change issues.

“It’s great for the tribe to be at the table and show our leadership in the climate change space,” said Jill Horwitz, climate resiliency officer for the Seminole Tribe’s Heritage and Environmental Resources Office. “It’s a prominent role. Hopefully it will translate into relationships across the state. We want to have a seat at every table.”

The tribe has been added to the list of original members of the group, which includes 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. The tribe is an equal and active partner in the compact.

The group will seek funding from the Resilient Florida Grant Program, which directs millions of dollars for vulnerability assessments, resilience plans and critical projects. Local governments, universities working with local governments and regional entities are eligible for the grant.

The tribe’s position on the leadership committee gives it a voice in how funds are spent. Since only regional entities and local governments are eligible for the grants, being part of the compact ensure the tribe will benefit from its work.

The compact is a result of the Water School at Florida Gulf Coast University, which has been working to organize the compact for about six years.

When FGCU began to explore the possibility of a climate resiliency compact, the subject of climate change was taboo in many city and county governments. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration proposed that FGCU and the University of Florida develop vulnerability assessment tools to explore what the future may hold. They held public presentations with local governments.

“They were willing to accept the fact that climate change was something they had to deal with when no one was willing to talk about mitigation,” said FGCU Water School professor Michael Savarese. “They were willing to talk about resilience.”

Hurricane Irma was a wakeup call in 2017. Savarese said they were able to get civic groups, business and civic leaders involved and the concept of being prepared spread.

“Compacts and alliances were becoming in vogue throughout the state,” Savarese said. “All of a sudden there was interest from local governments.”

The compact was created in 2020. Charlotte County was the first signatory, the tribe was the most recent.
Each member of the compact chooses one elected representative and one staff member to participate in the work. The goal is to have a working structure by the fall to qualify for the Resilient Florida grant, which acknowledges the value of regional resiliency alliances. The grant legislation, passed in May, guarantees $100 million per year of continued funding by establishing the Resilient Florida Trust Fund within the Department of Environmental Protection.

The compact sent two proposals for Resilient Florida grants. One is for administrative costs to get the compact up and running; the second is for vulnerability analysis tools for the compact’s entire region.

“The impact of and solutions for climate change go beyond any one jurisdiction,” Horwitz said. “They are regional in nature. Having an equal voting seat at the table of this new regional entity is good for the tribe, both for its reputation as a local leader in the climate space and to ensure that resiliency research and state-funded capital projects are equitable and of benefit to the tribe.”

The compact will be facilitated by the FCRC Consensus Center, a neutral third party nonprofit consultant located at Florida State University in Tallahassee. In the next few weeks, the leadership committee will meet with the facilitation team and develop the organizational structure of the group. Then the work of identifying climate change threats and responses can be crafted.

“This is a timely opportunity for the tribe to engage in meaningful collaborative partnership, research and decision-making with other local governments,” Horwitz said. “There is a lot to talk about and thank goodness we will have a forum to do it.”

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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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