The Club was pleased to receive a great talk from Albert Slap, President of Coast Risk Consulting – a geospatial technology, modeling and data analytics company located in Boca Raton. Albert grew up in the Philadelphia area and earned a B.A., University of Pennsylvania (1971) and then a J.D. from Villanova University School of Law (1974). Mr. Slap was a nationally recognized environmental trial attorney and law professor. Albert taught environmental law at University of Cincinnati College of Law and FIU Law School.
Here in South Florida our biggest concern is too much water.
After he retired in 2014, he was approached by Dr. Len Berry of FAU and Nobel Lauriat Dr. Brian Soden of the University of Miami, to help them start a technology company with the purpose of utilizing big data sets of environmental hazards to create a useful product to help save lives and property.
Mr. Slap’s firm has developed software that examines the environmental risks to every property in the United States. It provides a “visual summary report” of those risks to property owners, buyers, investors, business owners and lenders.
In the above image, you can see on the left a visualized model of current and future tidal flooding at a Palm Beach property in the downtown area near the Intra-Coastal waterway. The image shows three frames of tidal flooding, 2020, +15-years into the future (2035) and +30 years into the future (2050). Notice that while the house itself has had no tide flooding in the past and is not projected to have any in the 2020 King Tide season, the streets around the property have been experiencing some King Tide flooding. That can be as important as knowing if King Tides come onto the property itself, because the owner is going to have to drive through salt water to go to the supermarket or to work.
Then, using NOAA’s Regional Sea Level Rise Model, we project tidal flooding in the future. In 15-years, this property has 5-days of King Tide flooding inside the property boundaries, but the King Tide flooding in the streets of Palm Beach in this area – near the Intra-Coastal — gets worse — unless, of course, Palm Beach mitigates the flooding like Miami and Miami Beach are doing, with road raising and large pumps. Certainly, it is possible that Palm Beach will invest in these adaptation measures, but it will be expensive.
Now, let’s turn our attention to the property on the right. It is also located in Palm Beach, but to the North of the first property and, it is the second house from the beach. You can actually see the beach in these frames from our Report.
As you can see, it has no tidal flooding now, none in 15 years and none in 30 years. Note also that there is also no King Tide flooding in the streets around the home. How can that be? Here’s why. This home sits at a comfortable 13.2’ average elevation above sea level. Mr. Slap’s friend provided the report to his realtor and the realtor provided it to the buyer. The home sold for $5.5 million. Everyone was happy.
Let’s turn inland to west Boca (image above), closer to the Everglades than the beach. We are out of the tidal area. We are out of the Hurricane Storm Surge area. But we are not out of danger from flooding. Why? Because of heavy rainfall flooding.
The images on this slide are from two pages of the risk report from his home in Boca West. The first image on the left shows the heavy rainfall risk for a significant rainstorm event – like Hurricane Harvey in Houston. This model shows that his home would be surrounded by up to 3’ of rainwater – above the ground level. His garage and front door are not 3’ above ground level. So, in this type of rainstorm event, should it occur, his home would be damaged by flooding inside unless he deployed some removable flood barriers or sandbags to protect it.
The second image to the right shows the FEMA flood zone for the property. It shows that the house is located in a FEMA X-zone or the lowest risk zone that FEMA maps. FEMA says that the risk to his property from flooding is less than .2% per year. FEMA says that he does not need flood insurance. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP, the federal flood insurance provider) also says that he does not need flood insurance. His mortgage lender told him that he did not need flood insurance. His insurance agent told him that he did not need flood insurance.
But what did they mean by the word “need”? Did they mean that, by law, he does not “need” flood insurance in order to get a federally-guaranteed mortgage loan? Yes, they meant that.
Here are the lessons from this analysis:
LESSON #1 – Not all coastal Palm Beach properties have the same tidal/sea level rise flood risk now and in 30-years. Some need a lot of help from King Tides now and may lose most of their market value due to sea level rise in the next mortgage cycle unless the local government invests many millions of dollars in resilience. Other Palm Beach properties are fine now and will likely continue to gain market value in the future due to their higher elevations.
LESSON #2 – Even in the western areas of Palm Beach County away from the coast, there are significant flood risks due heavy rainfall, which is getting worse with climate change. Most residents in the FEMA X zones do not carry flood insurance and don’t know about their heavy rainfall flood risks. These homeowners also don’t know that, by virtue of being in a FEMA X zone, their flood insurance premiums would be laughably low should they choose to purchase flood coverage – and, they should all run out and get flood insurance, today.
Mr. Slap is a member of The Nature Conservancy’s Caribbean Advisory Board (www.nature.org). Mr. Slap was also was a Board Member and General Counsel of Friends of the Everglades. For his outstanding legal work, Mr. Slap was the recipient in 2014 of the prestigious Marjory Stoneman Douglas “Defender of the Everglades Award.”
Leave a Reply