Virginia Beach and Norfolk are cities whose past and future are intricately tied to the water. Tourism, the Navy, the world’s greatest natural harbor and Port are the foundations of our economy. As we have seen in recent year’s water can also be a threat. We have witnessed a significant increase in flooding, associated not only with major storms, but also with summer showers. The cause of flooding of our region is multifactorial and includes sea level rise, land subsidence, and ground water depletion. Regardless of the cause, the welfare of our region requires us to plan and to act. It is the job of our legislators to develop coastal flooding policies that reassure employers that Virginia has a plan to protect businesses, to re-affirm our commitment to national defense by working with the military to protect our bases here, to protect Virginia’s natural beauty, and most importantly to ensure the safety of our citizens and their property.
Hampton Roads is ranked 10th globally and second only to New Orleans nationally for resources at risk for flooding. In 2012, Chris introduced a resolution that directed the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) to study the impact of recurrent flooding on our area. The VIMS review of existing global flood management strategies suggested that it is possible for Virginia to have an effective response to increasing flood issues but it takes time, estimated at 20-30 years, to effectively plan and implement many of the adaptation strategies.
Because of the recommendations of the VIMS study, in 2014 Chris introduced HJR16 which created a bipartisan Joint House and Senate legislative subcommittee to develop plans, policies and provide legislative oversight of efforts to implement adaptation strategies to protect Virginians living and working in flood prone areas.
The committee members elected Chris to serve as the Chair of the Flooding Subcommittee in 2014 and again in 2016. Several bills introduced or endorsed by members of the Committee have now passed the General Assembly and have become law.
Chris has been received awards from the Sierra Club and the Virginia Chamber of Commerce for his leadership in addressing this threat to our area. Chris stated “Water doesn’t care if you’re a Democrat or a Republican. We have an obligation to find solutions that protect the lives and property of our citizens.”
The initial term of the Joint Subcommittee on Coastal Flooding focused on educating our members on the issue and on reaching out to business leaders, higher education, and other branches of government for insight and input on the need for a statewide adaptation and mitigation effort. The subcommittee received input from the Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Navy, the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security, the City of Norfolk, the Secure Commonwealth Panel, the National Federation of Independent Business, insurance carriers, the Virginia Association of Realtors, Old Dominion University, VIMS, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, and others.
The subcommittee’s second term is focused on action. In 2016 Chris introduced legislation which created the Center for Coastal Flooding – a partnership between ODU, VIMS & William & Mary to serve as a national repository of academic resources for flooding and adaptation.
Our efforts have just begun. Chris, along with the members of the entire Joint Subcommittee on Coastal Flooding, is advocating for the creation of a state agency for coastal adaptation whose mission would be focused on pro-active solutions to living with water. Chris believes that “Hampton Roads should be a national leader and business incubator focused on the development and marketing of adaptation strategies. Adaptation should be an economic development tool that creates jobs and strengthens our economy. Recurrent flooding is a both threat and an opportunity.”