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Preparing for sea level rise occurrences

Jordan Crawford | 7/14/2014, 2:52 p.m.
Norfolk has been identified as the second-most vulnerable city to sea level rise after New Orleans.
Norfolk has identified $1 billion in projects to prepare for increased flooding from sea level rise.

Norfolk has been identified as the second-most vulnerable city to sea level rise after New Orleans. Chesapeake Climate Action Network, an environmental group, outlined its plan last Wednesday for how coastal cities in Virginia could go from talking about sea level rise to preparing for it.

Calling Norfolk the “New Orleans of the East Coast,” the group’s executive director Mike Tidwell said, “It seems we’ve moved to the fully educated stage… it’s time for the solution stage.” Tidwell’s group works on climate change issues in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.

Tidwell and supporters held a news conference Wednesday morning at the Unitarian Church of Norfolk, a flood-prone sanctuary near the Chrysler Museum of Art where events are planned around the tides. Brackish water has tainted part of the church’s front yard.

“Eight years ago, that was grass,” said Brian Brennan, director of religious education, pointing to a patch of sandy ground that supports a “Church for Sale” sign. The church has been looking to move for about a decade because of a growing congregation, but flooding is another reason to find a new home, he said.

The heart of the environmental group’s plan calls for Virginia to join a regional cap-and-trade program for power plants to raise money for sea level rise and flood protection projects.

Nine states— Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont— participate in what’s called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. It sets limits on greenhouse gas emissions and charges users for the right to emit them.

Tidwell said joining the program could generate up to $200 million a year for Virginia by 2020 to help pay for projects such as tide gates to protect the Hague from chronic flooding.

“If not this, somebody should come up with another idea,” he said.

Norfolk has identified $1 billion in projects to prepare for increased flooding from sea level rise.

A spokesman for Dominion Virginia Power, the largest greenhouse gas producer in Virginia, said the state would need to make the decision on whether to join the cap-and-trade program.

“We think they should investigate that option,” Dan Genest said.

Two weeks ago, Gov. Terry McAuliffe revived a state commission to research how Virginia can adapt to climate change, including sea level rise and flooding. The commission has one year to come up with recommendations.