In 2011 the Florida legislature amended the Community Planning Act and authorized communities to adopt coastal flooding/sea level rise “Adaptation Action Areas” through their local government comprehensive plans. Few communities have done so to date, and those that have done so have largely addressed adaptation in the built environment. Working with specialists at Florida Sea Grant, the UF Law Conservation Clinic approached this planning tool from the standpoint of natural resources and community development. We took the idea to the small Gulf Coast community of Yankeetown, which embraced it. Yankeetown is somewhat unusual in that its municipal boundaries extend well into the Gulf of Mexico, and most of the Town remains undeveloped coastal and estuarine habitats, highly vulnerable to sea level rise. We assisted the Town with a proposal to the State of Florida Department of Economic Opportunity for a planning grant that had creating a Natural Resources Adaptation Action Area as a goal, and the development of a community-adopted “science plan” and adaptation based business plan as steps toward that goal. We partnered with the Watershed Ecology Lab in the UF College of Engineering (Dr. David Kaplan) and Yankeetown received the grant from the DEO. Law students Nick Barshel (J.D., 2014) and Saira Fida (J.D., 2014), and engineering Ph.D. candidate Amy Langston participated in the Conservation Clinic and drafted the science and business plans, both of which focused on adaptation. The science plan included a community wide, citizen-science based “bioblitz” to inventory the flora and fauna of the Town-owned Withlacoochee Gulf Preserve. The business plan was designed to promote the Town and Preserve as a destination for “science-based education” focused on estuarine ecology and adaptation to sea level rise. As a first step Yankeetown adopted both plans by resolution of the Town Council. The Clinic then drafted a model comprehensive plan amendment directed toward natural resources adaptation and worked with Town attorney, UF Law alumnus Ralf Brookes (J.D., 1987), to tailor it to the Town’s unique circumstances as a “Natural Resources Adaptation Action Area” – the first of its kind in Florida. Yankeetown is a “hometown democracy” community which means that comprehensive plan amendments must be placed on the ballot for a referendum, a controversial procedural mechanism subsequently preempted by state statute. The Town voted on the plan amendment on February 23, 2016 and it passed overwhelmingly. The Clinic’s work with Yankeetown has been featured in the Department of Economic Opportunity’s publication: Adaptation Action Areas: A Planning Guidebook for Florida’s Local Governments.
One important reason for pursuing this planning tool stems from the opportunities it may provide to develop an area-wide approach to long-term, large-scale restoration to promote adaptation, a concept we are presenting at the upcoming 2016 National Conference on Ecosystem Restoration. Adaptation Action Areas and similar restoration planning strategies may make communities like Yankeetown that embrace a “shovel-ready” approach more attractive in terms of the funds coming to Florida through the BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill settlement.