The Key West Mystique

Key West Island News


Key West Island News connects Key West residents and friends of the island, fosters our One Human Family culture and advances understanding of shared goals for our island community

Flooded Key West public safety arch

Seas rising. Winds intensifying. Heat hotter. Why would anyone want to live here?

By Linda Grist Cunningham, editor and proprietor

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.


There’s a decidedly Grinch-like grumbling roiling through the Keys. The nattering started Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 4, when the New York Times posted a story with this headline: Florida Keys deliver a hard message: As seas rise, some places can’t be saved.

It continued as the story, which came out of the annual in Key West, stretched its legs through social media shares and other media coverage. This is not the news anyone, including me, wants to read. We own a house in Key West — or I should say the bank owns it — and headlines like those make me see “under water” re-sell prices.

There’s more, but this will give you an idea of what the stir is about:

(Monroe County) released the first results of the county’s years-long effort to calculate how high its 300 miles of roads must be elevated to stay dry, and at what cost. Those costs were far higher than (the) team expected — and those numbers … show that some places can’t be protected, at least at a price that taxpayers can be expected to pay.

“I never would have dreamed we would say ‘no,’” Rhonda Haag, the county’s sustainability coordinator said in an interview (with the Times). “But now, with the real estimates coming in, it’s a different story. And it’s not all doable.”

PS: That’s 300 miles of county roads. The Overseas Highway, our umbilical cord to the real world, is managed by FDOT. It’s not included in the 300.

In blame-the-messenger mode, few were pleased the county folks said it, much less that the media headlined it. “They keep writing stuff like that, they’re gonna kill my business (destroy my vacation home rental) (scare away investors) (wreck my house value)” seemed to be the prevailing grumbles.

Here’s the catch. Slapping happy spin all over troubling facts won’t change the outcome. Sea levels are rising. Temperatures are hotter. Flooding is the rule, not the exception. Doesn’t it make sense to prepare to accommodate the changes?

We don’t need to argue why, who did what to whom or when. Those polarizing discussions are an endless loop that gets us nowhere. I don’t care whether one believes in climate change or even if the earth is flat. I do care that as I make my way around Key West when the tides are high and the moon close, there’s standing sea water up to my knees for days on end. Just ask the folks in Key Largo. There are neighborhoods that as of mid-November had been flooded for 82 days and that is, clearly, neither good news or normal.

So. How to deal with the unpleasantness? If I were queen of that forest, I’d start with this question: What must we do to remain a place where people want to live despite the challenges ahead?

  • Cease the sniping across political lines. Who cares if it’s six, 14, 21 inches or 36? In five years or 100? It’s all a lot of water when one opens the front door and tries to get to the car to go to work. That challenge afflicts us all  — whether you’re a Democrat or Republican or something else all together.
  • Focus on solutions and stop arguing about causes. We need to reach agreement on how to accommodate the changes. Getting to solutions will be hard enough; let’s not waste time on who or what caused the mess in the first place. The bad guy is irrelevant.
  • Educate ourselves. I’ll admit I was a bit taken aback by the folks who told me they’d never heard all this before. But, then, most of us aren’t environmental junkies. Not everyone reads climate studies for fun. We don’t need headlines that scare us into a for sale sign in the front yard, but we do need information so we make smart decisions. But stop blaming “the media” or “the government” for our predicament.
  • Accept that we need money and lots of it and that it isn’t currently hidden safely away in some government vault awaiting a chance to pay for your road, house or business elevation, ferry, private water taxi, et al. We will have to increase local taxes and local impact fees, especially on property that is not full-time residential, in order to build the reserves needed to raise roads, purchase flood-prone properties and take them out of development, provide alternative transportation and elevate houses and businesses. I can’t afford to elevate my house, even if the Historic Architecture Review Commission would allow it, so I need to be able to pay into and tap into a revolving loan thing.
  • Agree that those among us with the most will help those with the least. If we believe that, and I do, some of us will shoulder a much heavier burden than others. For from those to whom much is given, much is expected. We are blessed to call the Keys our home. Now it’s our turn to ensure generations forward can do the same.


  1. Charles Layno

    I hate to admit it, but until I heard of the results of the study, the only thing that was preventing me from moving to the Keys was the high cost of living there. Now, I am having to rethink moving plans all together. While within the remaining years I have left on this rock, rising water levels really would not be an issue, (when you are knocking on 60, “long term plans” take on a whole new meaning) but property value, and taxes to keep the water at bay certainly are a concern in the “near term”.

    Is there enough money in the world to keep the water out? I guess you could do a Holland kind of a dike system, but it would definately be expensive and somewhat of a eye soar, but it would keep the water out. But to cover 300 linear miles of coast line? $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

    I am not a “tree hugger” by any stretch of the imagination nor climate doomsayer, but it makes all the sense in the world that we, as a higher species, have a duty to take care of our little planet, no matter what your beliefs are because “we ain’t got no other place” to go at this time. So, I try and do a lot of the things you should do to “keep the place nice and tidy.” Makes good sense. Do you trash up your house? The water rise and fall has been happening for as long as H2O has been on this Earth so, while I REALLY hate it, I am afraid this is one of those cases of “you can’t fight city hall.” Or we find a LARGE stash of cash Aunt Mildred hid for a “raining day.”

    **** Keep up the good work. I enjoy your articles. And congrats on the Citizens gig!

    • Linda Grist Cunningham

      Yep, Charles, you capture well the conflicts; powerful arguments all round, which makes knowing what to do so difficult. I, too, know that while doing the “little things” might not change the world, they certainly will change things on my block. That’s a good start. Unless, of course, there really is an Aunt Mildred….. 🙂

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