Pinellas County took an important step about 18 months ago when we hired our first Sustainability and Resiliency Coordinator. Hank Hodde came to us with a strong background in community resiliency, coastal resource management and climate change adaptability, not to mention a patient demeanor and a lot of good ideas. He was charged with starting a program that would, among other things, decrease our high vulnerability to climate change as a low-lying peninsula and Florida’s most densely populated county.
For some, the word “sustainability” tracks to a tree-hugger mindset. It’s actually much more than that. Sustainability and resiliency are tied to transportation, housing, building codes, land conservation, planning, infrastructure hardening, flood vulnerability, healthcare, storm preparations and more. No matter what our political inclinations and feelings might be about green technologies or data trends, we should all care about sustainability and resiliency. In 2019, more than three-quarters of Pinellas County residents surveyed said they consider sea-level rise a concern to them.
In January, Hank came to one of our Board of County Commissioners work sessions and presented his inaugural report, Toward a Sustainable and Resilient Pinellas. The report has a lot of great information, and you can review it at http://bit.ly/resiliency-report
In addition to what’s included in the report, Hank highlighted some other achievements of our Sustainability and Resiliency (S&R) program:
- With the Board’s support, Pinellas County entered into Duke Energy Florida’s Clean Energy Connection Program, which will offset 40 percent of our annual energy consumption with solar energy starting in 2024.
- We’ve been actively involved in the Tampa Bay Regional Resiliency Coalition, including participating in workgroups and projects on topics such as policy development and clean energy. We’re also helping to create their Regional Resiliency Action Plan, which should be released this fall.
- We co-created and lead the Pinellas Sustainability and Resilience Network, an informal, self-organized network of local governmental officials and 10 municipalities.
- Hank provided grant support to County departments with the submission of six proposals totaling $60 million. We’ve been awarded three, and three are still in play.
Our No. 1 priority for the next years is developing our first Sustainability and Resiliency Action Plan (SRAP). We took our first step last year when we hired a consultant to lead our technical analysis and plan development. We chose VHB Environmental Services, a company that was the lead consultant for the City of St. Petersburg’s Integrated Sustainability Action Plan and Orlando’s Green Works Plan and other important work.
There are six phases to the plan, the first of which was initiation, which happened last fall. Between now and March 2022, we’ll work through the following:
Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory. We’ll analyze our greenhouse gas emissions and provide training for County staff on minimizing and/or offsetting our greenhouse gas emissions.
Internal Program and Process Assessment. We’ll provide a baseline assessment of County practices through an internal process, programs and policy review, internal engagement through workshops and surveys and create an external engagement strategy.
External Stakeholder Engagement. We’ll focus on local and regional stakeholder engagement, surveys to gather input from unincorporated communities and formulate an External Sustainability and Resiliency Stakeholder Advisory Group.
Plan Development. The project team will use the findings of Phases 1 through 4 to define the mission/vision, goals, strategies, and approaches to funding a sustainability and resiliency program in the future.
Plan Implementation. This is where all the work will pay off and the consultant team will deliver the plan. It will include short-term initiatives and high-level guidance for longer-term initiatives. The consultant will also deliver a training presentation for the County and an operational plan.
Much of Hank’s progress to date has been made behind the scenes, laying the foundation for regional collaboration and data analysis that will lead to smart policy decisions and service improvements. You’ve heard the adage, “well, they formed a committee.” We have formed some committees and workgroups, and we’ve joined some. But you crawl before you walk, and you walk before you run. We are fully committed as a county and a region to becoming a leader in this area.
As always, if you have questions or comments, you can call my office at (727) 464-3363 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.