The Virginian Pilot – Mechelle Hankerson
Virginia Beach and Norfolk leaders are pushing the state government to address flooding issues by creating a new Cabinet position.
Del. Chris Stolle plans to introduce legislation to establish a state resiliency officer, whose duties would include coordinating resources and efforts to curb the impact of flooding across Virginia. Currently, Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran handles flooding issues.
“I’m optimistic it will be passed, but it will be an uphill battle,” Stolle said.
The 2017 General Assembly session begins Jan. 11, three months after Hurricane Matthew soaked Hampton Roads. The storm didn’t make direct landfall, but it caused $500 million in damage. More than 5,000 residents – over half of them in Virginia Beach – have applied for $8.6 million in federal aid.
It’s not surprising to Hampton Roads residents that flooding has become a more urgent problem, Stolle said.
“For the rest of the population, it was a bit of a wake-up call,” he said of the storm’s timing.
Stolle’s legislation, which hasn’t been filed, will be considered during a tight budget year. The state has to find a way to close a $1.26 billion gap. Gov. Terry McAuliffe has suggested cutting funding to colleges and requiring other state departments to slash spending by 7.5 percent.
Del. Rob Bloxom, who represents parts of Norfolk, Virginia Beach and the Eastern Shore, said he doesn’t think this will be the year the state creates a resiliency officer position.
Money is too tight and there are too many other priorities, such as raises for law enforcement and other public employees, he said.
The idea for a resiliency officer came from the state’s Joint Subcommittee on Coastal Flooding, which was created in 2014. Stolle chairs the subcommittee, which includes Hampton Roads Sens. Frank Wagner and Mamie Locke as well as elected officials from the Northern Neck.
A resiliency officer would coordinate efforts to study flooding causes and mitigation and give the state an edge in receiving grants or federal money.
“You’ve got a lot of different people doing a lot of different things,” Bloxom said. “When you’re looking at federal money, a little bit of coordination would be beneficial.”