Non-profit climate group campaigns for new taxes to combat rising sea levels

By David Pendered

The passage of a $192 million bond referendum in Miami last year established that taxpayers are willing to shoulder debt to ward off rising sea levels. A group that helped fund that campaign is connected to a digital company that now offers free science-based predictions on rising sea levels along Georgia’s coast.

miami, nuisance flooding

Miami voters last year approved a $192 bond referendum to reduce flooding and the effects of rising sea levels. This ‘nuisance flooding’ has become a fact of life in parts of the city. Credit: climatesignals.org

Miami’s successful bond campaign shows there is a market for digital companies that can offer information and materials to support campaigns to fund efforts to mitigate rising sea levels. The company states that it contributed $400,000 to the campaign, evidently in in-kind digital services and other products.

Seawall Coalition is the non-partisan, non-profit that says it contributed to the Miami bond campaign. Its IRS status, 501(c)4, allows it to participate in politics, so long as it doesn’t spend more than 50 percent of its money on politics, according to a description of the tax status in report by washingtonpost.com.

Seawall Coalition was founded by Matthew Eby, who also is founder and executive director of First Street Foundation.

The foundation has launched floodiq.com, a website that predicts levels of coastal flooding in Georgia and other southern states. The site says it uses information culled from four government entities and Columbia University.

There’s no indication Seawall Coalition has any plans to promote an infrastructure bond in Georgia. The company observed the market for infrastructure bonds to address sea levels is nascent: The Miami vote was the first-ever to raise taxes to fight rising sea levels.

tybee island flooding

Flooding on Tybee Island that’s typical around the full moon is expected to become increasingly common, researchers with the University of Georgia advised island residents in 2013. Credit: news.uga.edu

Nonetheless, the flood risk website operated by First Street Foundation does observe that Savannah and a few other Georgia towns are “at risk of frequent tidal flooding,” due to rising sea level. Sea level in the Savannah area is to rise 5.88 inches in the next 15 years, the site reports, citing data from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Seawall Coalition provided the Miami bond campaign with an array of campaign services typical in this era. This is the platform the coalition adopted and executed, according to a report on its website:

  • “Recognizing the importance of this crucial moment — this was the first time a city would seek this type of funding, and a win would open the door for additional cities to do the same — we knew that we had to step in. The Seawall Coalition donated $400,000 to the ballot initiative, creating a unique campaign to educate voters on the challenge of sea level rise and the solutions the bond could provide.
  • “We developed a bilingual site called MiamiForever.org, ads on TV and radio, and custom mailers and digital ads … and impacted homeowners and business owners explaining how this bond would benefit each group. We built everything around educating voters and driving awareness and support of the bond….
  • “This was a huge win for the people of Miami, and for the Seawall Coalition. It also validated a central premise of our work — that if citizens understand the challenges and solutions to sea level rise and flooding, they will take collective and powerful action.”

The bond referendum was for a total of up to $400 million. Along with the money for flood mitigation, the package provided money for affordable housing, parks development, improvements to streets and infrastructure, and public safety enhancements.

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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