By Steven Abrams
Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties have more in common than just celebrating the Heat’s recent championship. At the urging of Mayor Kristin Jacobs of Broward County, Mayor Carlos Gimenez of Miami-Dade County and I recently formed an alliance with her through a compact approved by each county’s commission. Together, the three counties have over 5 million residents, a population larger than 28 states.
By working together we can more efficiently address many common issues and challenges. As Mayor Gimenez likes to quip, it’s been said that you can only see two walls from outer space, the Great Wall of China and the wall between Miami-Dade and its neighboring counties to the north.
Regionalism can have its limits, but for decades the three counties have worked together as the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, which operates Tri-Rail. A commuter system that gets thousands of people to work and school each day within our three-county area could not be as efficient if each county operated its own rail service or even its portion of the rail line.
When it comes to protecting our shoreline, the counties have been collaborating for the past few years through a climate change compact to adopt measures such as beach erosion control, standards for building construction and protection of drinking water.
The climate compact, approved by the three counties and Monroe County, developed a technical foundation for regional climate issues. One result was a new law creating the Adaptation Action Area designation for areas that are uniquely vulnerable to weather impacts. This precedent-setting compact has gained acclaim and recognition from the federal government, state legislators, national and local news media, and academia, and last year the Kresge Foundation awarded the compact a three-year, $975,000 grant.
The Tri-County Legislative Compact is an outgrowth of these efforts and is focused on common concerns such as transportation, Everglades restoration and voting reform.
Our county commissions realized that alone one county cannot build an effective regional transportation system, when so many roads and rails traverse multiple counties. Likewise, one county cannot effectively address beach erosion and sea-level rise when the coast extends through all three counties. The Everglades and the environment as a whole cannot be managed with a parochial approach.
Already, we were successful in lobbying state lawmakers this year for voting reforms that will extend early voting and help prevent the confusion and long lines at the polls experienced during the 2012 presidential election.
Another important focus for the coalition includes the area’s three seaports in preparation for the expansion of the Panama Canal, due for completion in 2015, and making sure the ports can handle the larger ships through proper renovations, including dredging, blasting and bridge-raising.
Finally, there is an emphasis on making sure that South Florida receives its fair share of funding as a donor region to the state and federal government.
And when the three mayors of the state’s three most populous counties lobby state and federal officials, Palm Beach County’s leader now has the same stature as Broward’s and Miami-Dade’s on behalf of our residents.
The Tri-County State Legislative Compact is another step forward to organize around the issues that bring us together. There is strength in numbers, in one voice and a unified agenda.
It is said that only politicians and mapmakers recognize county lines.
Residents, commuters, visitors, wildlife, hurricanes, the Atlantic Ocean, the Everglades, the air we breathe and the aquifer know no boundaries.
And most importantly, the three mayors stood together at a press conference in support of Mayor Gimenez’ wager with the mayor of San Antonio that the Heat would win the NBA championship.
Steven L. Abrams is Palm Beach County mayor and the commissioner representing District 4