NORFOLK, Va. – Cutting carbon emissions and buffering Virginia's shoreline are crucial to heading off future flooding and coastal damage likely to be caused by sea level rise, an environmental group said Wednesday.
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Using a flood-prone church near downtown Norfolk as a backdrop, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network called on state leaders to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. The initiative caps carbon emissions from power plants in nine states from Maryland to Maine, and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network estimates that Virginia could generate as much as $209 million a year through the cap-and-trade agreement.
The group included that call in a 10-point plan it announced Wednesday.
Mike Tidwell, the network's director, said that money could be used to help coastal Virginia adapt to the already rising seas by funding construction of things such as living shorelines, which include rocks and grasses to protect shorelines from erosion and provide a buffer zone between developments and the water.
Climate scientists have long warned that rising seas pose a serious threat to the Virginia coast, in part because land is sinking around the Chesapeake Bay from the meteor that gouged out the estuary eons ago.
A Virginia Institute of Marine Science report issued to state lawmakers last year said that over the next 20 to 50 years, a sea level rise of roughly 1.5 feet is expected in the state. In Hampton Roads, flooding is already commonplace in many cities during major storms. In Norfolk, the most at-risk city in the nation for sea level rise after New Orleans, tidal flooding already occurs during minor storms, leaving some streets impassable.
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Residents in some parts of the city move their cars in anticipation of high tide and regional leaders have openly worried about getting sailors to Naval Station Norfolk as flooding worsens due to sea level rise. The Defense Department has also warned that climate change is a threat to military infrastructure. That's a particular threat in Hampton Roads, where defense spending comprises more than 40 percent of the economy.
The recommendations from the Chesapeake Climate Action Network include having Gov. Terry McAuliffe form a task force of experts to coordinate between military installations and Virginia's joint subcommittee on recurrent flooding. In an email, McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy said the governor is committed to advancing Virginia's readiness to keep communities and the economy safe from the dangers of sea level rise and climate change pose.
Coy noted that McAuliffe recently reconvened the Virginia Climate Change and Resiliency Commission and has remained in contact with Hampton Roads officials and business and military leaders since he was sworn in.
Other recommendations include evaluating the possibility of strategic retreat in especially vulnerable areas, where homes and other restructures aren't rebuilt or elevated.
"If officials identify circumstances where people and ecosystems should be encouraged to move inland, they should develop methods for making that transition just and affordable for low- to middle-income residents," the Chesapeake Climate Action Network report says.
Safe Coast Virginia report http://chesapeakeclimate.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Safe-Coast-Virginia-Report-July2014.pdf
Brock Vergakis can be reached at www.twitter.com/BrockVergakis