Northam announces $500 million plan to mitigate sea level rise

Virginia

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — “Every day, billions of dollars of private property and public infrastructure are at risk from flooding,” Gov. Ralph Northam (D-Va.) said Thursday morning at the boat launch at the end of LaValette Avenue in Norfolk.

Virginia has the highest rate of sea-level rise on the Atlantic coast, per the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, up more than 14 inches since 1930. In 2018 and 2019 alone, Virginia experienced nine major flooding events that led to about $1.6 billion in damage Northam’s office says.

“Whether you live in the seven cities of Hampton Roads or on a farm on the Eastern Shore, we are all feeling the impact,” Northam said.

The $500 million for the plan will come from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Virginia became part of RGGI this past summer, joining ten other Mid-Atlantic and New England states. Northam calls the plan a “innovative, science-based approach” with a focus on cost-effective and natural solutions.

“The pandemic has changed many aspects of our lives, but not the fact that our planet is warming, land is sinking, sea levels are rising, and extreme weather events are more frequent and more severe,” said Northam in a news release. “The science is clear: climate change is threatening our way of life, and there is no time to waste. We must act quickly and decisively — and the Coastal Master Planning Framework will be our roadmap to resilience in coastal Virginia. This innovative, science-based approach uses cost-effective, nature-based, and equitable strategies to protect our people, our communities, our infrastructure, and our economy right now and for generations to come.”

These are the framework’s guiding principles:

  1. Acknowledge climate change and its consequences, and base decision-making on the best
    available science.
  2. Identify and address socioeconomic inequities and work to enhance equity through coastal
    adaptation and protection efforts.
  3. Recognize the importance of protecting and enhancing green infrastructure like natural
    coastal barriers and fish and wildlife habitat by prioritizing nature-based solutions.
  4. Utilize community and regional scale planning to the maximum extent possible, seeking
    region-specific approaches tailored to the needs of individual communities.
  5. Understand fiscal realities and focus on the most cost-effective solutions for protection and
    adaptation of our communities, businesses and critical infrastructure.

According to state data in the past two years, Virginia homes and businesses sustained $1.6 billion worth of flood damage. Secretary of Natural Resources Matt Strickler says business and home owners in coastal areas are beginning to wonder whether they’ll need to relocate.

“If we had been standing here during the king tides earlier this week, some of our heels might be in the water,” Strickler said of the announcement site near the Virginia Zoo.

The committee developing the master plan will report to DNR. Northam says it will rely on the best available science – and will work with the public through civic leagues and town halls, with the military and the business community for a coordinated approach.

“We want to see how do we work with homeowners, how do we come to these areas and install buffers and install natural shorelines,” Northam said.

Northam says public input should be able to begin by early next year.

Peggy Sanner, Virginia Executive Director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, praised the announcement. “It is encouraging to see that this planning framework recognizes the need to ensure equity is built into Virginia’s resilience programs. We must prevent vulnerable and marginalized communities from bearing the brunt of these threats,” Sanner said in a statement.

According to Old Dominion University, its researchers played a key role in the development of the master plan framework. ODU is also a founding member of the Commonwealth Center for Recurrent Flooding Resiliency.

The center’s report, Future Sea Level and Recurrent Flooding Risk for Coastal Virginia, was released earlier this year and gives some data.

By 2040, 424 square miles of land in coastal Virginia will be at risk of permanent flooding from relative sea level rise, according to ODU. That area could rise to 649 square miles by 2080, with as many as 111,545 buildings at risk of being below the high tide line.

“Studies such as this are necessary steppingstones to identify the evolving hazards associated with sea level rise and climate change,” said Tom Allen, ODU geography professor and co-author of the study. “Identifying building assets and infrastructure exposed to tidal flooding, extreme rainfall and combined flooding that are exacerbated by sea level rise informs decision-makers and opens the door to risk reduction and planning for adaptation and mitigation. These are key underpinnings of coastal resilience that are making Hampton Roads renowned.” 

To read the full outline, click here.

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