The City of Norfolk has created a new mechanism for citizens to adapt to flooding and eroding coastlines. Neighborhoods now can vote to form “special service districts” that raise property taxes for projects dealing with flood mitigation, dredging, water quality improvement, and coastal protection, reports the Virginian-Pilot.
Property owners can initiate projects by submitting a petition with signatures from 30% of the homeowners in a proposed district. Once the city has estimated the cost of project, the service district and tax must be approved by 75% of the affected property owners and also by owners of at least 50% of the property value. If the neighborhood votes yes, the district still requires City Council approval.
The Pilot cited the low-lying Hague neighborhood on the edge of downtown Norfolk that might use a district to jump-start much-needed stormwater improvements and floodgate construction.
Bacon’s bottom line: The creation of special service districts represents a huge step forward in building resilience into Virginia’s low-lying communities, although it is only one reform among many that must be made. Special service districts won’t work for every neighborhood. Flood control projects are subject to cost-benefit tradeoffs like any other kind of infrastructure. Economics dictate that districts will be created only where development is dense enough, property values are high enough, and the project scope is limited enough geographically that the resulting taxes are not onerous to property owners. Districts will be less likely to make sense in areas of low-density or low-value development.
Predictably, a concern expressed in the Norfolk City Council meeting was that the districts would benefit mainly “people who are wealthy and have more disposable income [to] solve their problems.” True. But it makes no sense whatsoever to deprive people of a tool to protect against sea-level rise simply because it won’t help everyone.
In flood-prone areas that lack the density or property valuations to justify flood-control districts, residents may have to get accustomed to the idea that they’ll need to move one day. Perhaps Norfolk could consider creating some kind of “sea-level refugee” fund to help these people relocate.
In the meantime, the federal government needs to price flood insurance rates so they reflect the flooding risks property owners incur by their location on the coast or in flood plains. Local governments also should create no-go districts vulnerable to sea-level rise where the municipality gives advance notice that it will maintain existing public infrastructure but will build no more new infrastructure.
Hampton Roads can adapt. If Rotterdam, Netherlands, much of which lies below sea level, can thrive in an era of encroaching sea levels, so can Hampton Roads. Special service districts represent a good start. But they are only a start.There are currently no comments highlighted.