Letter: Planning for the inevitable sea-level rise
Being an advocate for action to mitigate global warming sometimes feels like Sisyphus and his endless requirement to roll an immense boulder up a hill. While the boulder may not have been reduced in size, some unexpected help may finally be on the way.
Although carefully nuanced at times, it was apparent at the forum hosted June 30 in Norfolk by ODU and led by Senator Tim Kaine, that he and Congressmen Wittman, Scott and Rigell sought answers to the theme of the forum: “Hampton Roads Sea-Level Rise and Preparedness Action Items at the Federal Level.”
The primary concerns were centered on the economic impacts of continuing sea-level rise and storm surge on the communities of Hampton Roads and the direct impacts on Naval Base Norfolk and national defense including the ability of the base personnel to get to work during storms.
There was no political posturing or dodging hard topics. For three hours, the congressmen, assisted by the mayors of Norfolk and Virginia Beach asked questions of two elite panels of local and national experts to identify specifically what the long-term federal response to the recurring flooding situation should be going forward. Questions from the congressmen included: What projects are needed? What priorities? At what cost? What is the state doing? How are you educating the public on the issues?
The panels were asked what planning was being done regarding local coordination of responses to the problems as well as plans for adaptation; what the state and federal agencies were doing, and what Congress could do to help. It was made clear by their statements that the senator and the congressmen were willing to work together with the Hampton Roads communities on solutions.
They offered to establish a working committee within the Virginia congressional delegation. A point person was to be identified to be the interface with a comparable working group to be established from Hampton Roads including the stakeholders at risk. In order to avoid politically charged words, the use of “global warming” and “climate change” were subdued, but the local group was charged to come up with a single forecast of sea level rise for the Norfolk area spanning at least 50 years and considering all factors.
The Corps of Engineers uses 50 years as the planning horizon for their infrastructure projects. Continuing global warming was the big gorilla in the room and mitigation will be necessary or retreat of much of the coastal infrastructure this century becomes inevitable.
The Congressional delegation appears ready to become proactive in helping the Hampton Roads area with adaptation planning and eventually assisting in pushing the boulder with actions.
Gregory T. Haugan