Youngkin Backs Virginia Senate, House Bills that Offer Real Coastal Flood Protection

by James C. Sherlock

Some of us, led by then-Delegate Jason Miyares, have been trying for years to establish a state authority that finally can bring regional storm surge protections to Virginia.

Now we have a chance. For whatever reasons, we could never get a governor behind the proposal.

Gov. Youngkin has stepped up and supported HB 847 (Delegate Rob Bloxom, R-Accomack, and SB 569, Senator Jen Kiggans, D-Virginia Beach).

We now have a chance.

The “Budget Amendment Necessary” and “Fiscal Impact Estimates” on those bills are both “Preliminary – Indeterminate” for this legislation. But the new authority created under this legislation cannot spend significant money without the approval of the legislative process, so the fiscal impacts of the legislation as written will be small.

The summary of those bills:

Creates the Coastal Virginia Resiliency Authority, a single state entity to develop, manage, and integrate coastal restoration and resilience.

It is modeled roughly after Louisiana’s hyper-successful Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA). CPRA has written the original music and lyrics on how to leverage the federal government’s willingness to pay 65% of the costs of such programs as long as it has a competent partner. Texas and Florida are following Louisiana’s lead.

Finally, we hope, Virginia will follow as well.

Key phrases in the pending legislation:

The Coastal Virginia Resiliency Authority is created as a body politic and corporate, a political subdivision of the Commonwealth.

The General Assembly has determined that there exists in the Commonwealth the need for a single state entity to develop, manage, and integrate coastal restoration and resilience.

The Authority is granted all powers necessary or convenient for the carrying out of its statutory purposes.

Additional powers

2. Serve as a non-federal sponsor and enter into a legal agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the purpose of mitigating coastal flooding and integrating coastal resilience;

3. Enter into and execute agreements with the federal government, including the Department of Defense for support for flood control initiatives to increase the coastal resiliency related to Department of Defense installations.

This approach is the only one that has any chance of working across jurisdictional boundaries, whether coastal or riverine.

Previous administrations tried valiantly and out of necessity to get Regional Planning Commissions, which have no authority to do anything but plan, to get their member jurisdictions to agree to some form of joint executive authority.

Those efforts in Hampton Roads failed quite publicly. The local governments do not trust one another. The mayors don’t want to cede authority to a regional body.

The Corps of Engineers, without whose participation the federal purse on such projects is closed, by law may not proceed without a non-federal sponsor. Virginia has checkmated its own king. Until now, we have by lack of state action blocked consideration of any Virginia regional flood control projects that spend federal money.

The problem for coastal and riverine communities is that flood waters simply do not care about political boundaries.

This is the chance to finally take state action in a situation in which only state action will work. It starts with coastal flooding protection. Virginia’s coasts are not the only areas of the Commonwealth that flood, just the most potentially devastating. I hope this is only the beginning.

And I hope it begins getting done this year.

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13 responses to “Youngkin Backs Virginia Senate, House Bills that Offer Real Coastal Flood Protection”

  1. There is potential good in this approach, but unless this authority is open to bucking the current powers that be and doesn’t follow a one-size-fits-all plan, it won’t be very successful in some areas. Areas with subsidence due to excessive water draw-down, as in Hampton Roads, can’t be treated entirely in the same manner as a place like Mathews that is protected from that subsidence by the crater walls that cut it off from the Potomac aquifer.

    There are effective mitigations for Mathews, but they’re not being used. For a specific example: Based on the North Atlantic Coast Comprehensive Study done after Hurricane Sandy by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, next to building removal, barrier island and beach restoration and replenishment offer the highest risk management functions. (Resilient Adaptation to Increasing Risk, pg. 57)

    The beach replenishment the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) orchestrated in Mathews has been to protect the tiger beetle, south of the breach in the Winter Harbor barrier beach, and this does nothing to reduce flood risk to homes and people inland of that area. If the mitigation were carried out, sand would naturally move down to the tiger beetle area through wind and wave action.

    The cause of the breach was not sea level rise or subsidence; VDOT stripped 6-7 ft of sand from the beaches north of the area to use in road building in the Middle Peninsula 80-90 years ago. Since then, sand has accumulated offshore from barrier islands that are gone now and could be pumped directly where it’s needed on the barrier beach, without having to transport it from somewhere else. If this kind of specific analysis of what caused the problem and what will remedy it is done for each area, the authority would be well worth it. If not, it will be as useless as the current operations have been.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      In this approach, Carol, the Corps of Engineers does all of the engineering. That is the largest and most experienced civil engineering organization in the world. They will handle it properly.

      The portion of the North Atlantic Coast Comprehensive Study done in Hampton Roads was limited to Norfolk. That, of course, presents the problem to the Corps that it must plan to wall off Norfolk. They can do that, but it belies the term comprehensive, and the Corps knows it.

      They know that we need a regional approach, but they cannot exceed their orders. In order to make a regional plan, they need a regional partner. They don’t have one. This bill will give them one.

    2. Eric the half a troll Avatar
      Eric the half a troll

      It has been a while since I have read up on the hydro issues in the Tidewater area but I seem to remember that subsidence DID have something to do with excessive groundwater removal. Thanks for bringing that back up. It is indeed a complex situation that needs to be addressed at the root cause level. It is good to see that the issue is not being ignored at least.

      1. Land subsidence and relative sea-level rise in the southern Chesapeake Bay region

      2. Land subsidence and relative sea-level rise in the southern Chesapeake Bay region

      3. James C. Sherlock Avatar
        James C. Sherlock

        It will never be ignored by the Corps of Engineers if we ask them to plan for protecting the region.

      4. Land subsidence and relative sea-level rise in the southern Chesapeake Bay region

  2. Stephen Haner Avatar
    Stephen Haner

    The Governor’s budget amendments include $2.5 million per year, as I recall, to set this up and operate it. There is, pardon the pun, a flood of federal money coming. I’d like to see the RGGI tax go away, but the $100 to $150 million it is producing for these kinds of projects can be found from other general sources. If the sea never rises or Hampton Roads never sinks another inch, the threat is already real and we’ve allowed too much unwise development in vulnerable areas.

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      I say, “Atlantic! Go for it.” I’ll have a nice view of the James from my 25′ bluff. Of course, it means parking a mile away and having to buy a golf cart and a small boat.. meh. Talk about gated! Moats are better!

    2. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      Steve, the federal process happens in steps. That process includes a project initiation phase, a project planning phase, a project initiation and control phase, and a project closeout phase. See

      The project planning is also done in steps, each with off ramps.

      First, District planners in a Draft Feasibility Report answer the questions of federal interest, engineering feasibility, economic justification and environmental acceptability. They identify water resources problems, conceive solutions, resolve conflicting interests and shape recommendations. The team also assesses the likelihood that a non-federal sponsor can be identified and willing to pay their share of the project cost per federal cost-sharing requirements.

      The next step is public review. The Corps will not proceed without public support that must be orchestrated by the customer.

      Then the Final Feasibility Report is submitted to the Division level for approval and by that level to Army Corps Headquarters for approval. The Chief Engineer, a three star, signs that report to Congress.

      That process by law answers all the questions that Congress has posed in order to fund construction.

      The planning phase is priced nominally at $3 million, likely more for a major regional project, split 50/50 between the customer and the Corps, but you get the point. There is no major financial commitment from the customer until he gets to see what is proposed to be built and at what cost, and has ensured the Corps that there is public support and that construction money will be forthcoming. Figure three years for that process, so there is plenty of time to get GA approval.

      The customer funding, usually bonded, can be fronted by the federal Treasury and paid back at low rates for the duration of the bonds. In the Louisiana case, the velocity of the money sloshing around in the local/state economies during construction actually generated more in sales and income taxes that the ultimate costs of the bonds.

      Bottom line, the state will not be on the hook for construction money until the GA approves it.

  3. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Here’s my peeve. Why is it that TWC maps never show SEVA? Whenever crap weather moves in from the north, the maps end at Richmond. Whenever crap moves in from the south, the maps end at the NC border. It’s like 3 million people never have weather.

    Maybe they’ve just assumed we’ve been reclaimed already?

  4. Sen. Jen Kiggans is a Republican that was first elected in 2019, not a Democrat!! She’s also the frontrunner for the REPUBLICAN nomination for CD 2 to take on Elaine Luria in November!!

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