Shoreline Resiliency Funds for Hampton Roads?

In 2016 former Governor Terry McAuliffe signed a bill that set up a revolving loan fund to help homeowners and businesses elevate their properties to safeguard against sea level rise. Just one problem, says the Virginian-Pilot. The fund has no dedicated revenue source. Two years later, “the well is dry.”

Now the Virginia Conservation Network is calling for the state to contribute $50 million to the Virginia Shoreline Resiliency Fund. “The coastal communities need help,” says Karen Forget with Lynnhaven River Now, a member of the environmental network. “This is a huge, really unprecedented, issue for the coastal communities all up and down the East Coast. We definitely need assistance.”

Virginia’s coastal tidewater region is highly vulnerable to flooding caused by land subsidence and a rising sea level. The inundations are increasing in frequency, and, according to some, will get worse as global warming intensifies and sea level rise accelerates. Even if you don’t buy the alarmist global-warming scenarios, there is no disputing that the sea level has been rising at a steady rate for more than a century and will continue to do so, or that land around Hampton Roads has been subsiding and will continue to do so. The flooding of coastal Virginia is one of the most predictable crises in history.

The million-dollar questions are (1) what should we do about it, and (2) who should pay for it? It’s not surprising that representatives from the Hampton Roads metro area are begging the state for money. Who can blame them? That’s what everyone does. And there is a case to be made that in a Commonwealth such as Virginia, we’re all in this together, and other regions should help out.

However, when Hampton Roads asks for $50 million, a not inconsiderable sum, the rest of the state need not write a blank check. Let’s face it, it will take a lot more than $50 million to adapt to rising sea levels — it will take billions of dollars — and we can safely say that this request for state funds will be only the first of many in the years ahead.

While inland Virginia has a moral obligation to help Coastal Virginia, the obligation is not an open-ended, no-strings-attached commitment. Coastal Virginia needs to take actions, which, at the very least, will stop increasing the region’s exposure to flooding. Ideally, the region should take steps to reduce its exposure to flooding. And that will mean curtailing coastal development.

Now, I’m a free-market kind of guy, and I think people should be able to build where they want to (as long as they don’t cause harm to others). So, if someone wants to build a $5 million house on the beachfront, be my guest. But I don’t believe people have no right to expect society to insulate them from the risks they’re taking by, say, subsidizing their hurricane and flood insurance. Nor do I believe that they have a right to insist that society provide infrastructure — flood-proof roads, water, sewer, electricity, etc. — at any cost to beachfront dwellers need to sustain themselves in the facing of rising waters and increase funds.

That $50 million revolving fund will be used to help people put their houses on stilts. That may be a reasonable use of the money (although I’d like to see the fine print). But it doesn’t come close to addressing the massive unfunded liability Coastal Virginia has created for itself. Inland Virginians should extend a hand of assistance to their brethren on the coast — and insist they get serious about reducing their liabilities.

Update: Today’s Washington Post headline: “The world has just over a decade to get climate change under control, U.N. scientists say.” Yeah, right. That’s what they said ten years ago…. and twenty years ago. Those of us who remember past doomsday prophecies have become inured. But you don’t have to believe in global climate catastrophe to acknowledge that flooding risks on the Virginia coastline are real and slowly but steadily getting worse.

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16 responses to “Shoreline Resiliency Funds for Hampton Roads?

  1. the irony is THICK!!!

    So the “alarmists” have been claiming that global warming would cause multi-trillion dollar damage to coastal cities – but in Virginia, we got this pesky coastal flooding problem that has nothing to do with global warming?

    it’s just a land subsistence and generic flooding issue… 😉

    That’s what I like about “free market” guys! The ability to FOCUS!

    The places where Hurricane Sandy flooded – were not due to land subsidence and they had never seen flooding like that before so they could not be in inconvenient denial like Virginia can be

    Houston didn’t suffer from land subsistence either. Nor Gaston in Richmond. In fact, we’re seeing more and more flooding from tidal surge and tremendous rainfall totals… 1000 year “floods” they say…

    WHO Knew? All we had was these “alarmists” blathering stupid stuff about global warming!

    All this bad stuff going on now has nothing to do with Global Warming… it’s all due to “other” things… !!! AND… it’s our MORAL responsibility to help!

    What’s a Libertarian guy to do??? Blame the “Alarmists”!

    Seriously. Who says we have a moral responsibility to help – least of all those who claim to be Libertarians?

    • “The places where Hurricane Sandy flooded – were not due to land subsidence” . . . Wrong; the coastal plain of New Jersey and Long Island is subsiding, fairly rapidly actually, due to the “rebound effect” of land still rising further inland due to the loss of the weight of all that glacial ice when it last retreated some ~12,000 years ago. As the inland rises, the attached coastal plain tilts downward. Same effect at the Chesapeake but less so as the rise is occurring to the northwest not west and further away.

      All this “subsidance” stuff is independent of the worldwide effects of sea level rise due to melting ice caps and glaciers on, today mainly, Greenland and Siberia and Antartica (remember, sea ice that’s already floating doesn’t affect the sea level elsewhere when it melts. only the ice that’s currently resting on land).

      • Acbar – awhile ago, I ran across a map and related article that showed most of the land flooded by Sandy was land that was reclaimed from the water. It was landfill. I posted a link to this, which I cannot find.

        Also, a considerable portion of San Francisco, including most of the Financial District, is built on land fill.

        Is it fair to make others pay more to protect landowners whose property is constructed on land fill?

        • No it isn’t fair; many of those homes on fill should never have been allowed to be built. Maybe there are ways to build such homes low density and elevated right, high on pilings, but what BOS or zoning administrator has any incentive to enact or enforce those kinds of requirements? On the contrary, the builder just wants to build what sells and get out of there: the homeowner just wants to buy as cheap as possible and will start paying local taxes as soon as he’s in possession. That zoning administrator, who’s paid from those taxes, isn’t affected when the cost of flood insurance goes up.

          To be fair, there’s fill and then there’s solid, elevated fill with good drainage. Geology and lots of other considerations. But again, what local government has any incentive to be cautious?

          • Well stated.

            I get infuriated when we look to government to stop climate change when it won’t even stop allowing people to build in flood plains and Resource Protection Areas.

            For example, Fairfax County’s zoning code prohibits many uses and activities in an RPA but one of the allowed uses is building a road. The County has been examining the construction of an extension of Boone Blvd in Tysons through RPA land (Old Courthouse-Spring Branch) and parkland (Raglin Road Park) to accommodate more Tysons traffic. From a traffic engineering perspective, this makes sense. But from an environmental perspective, this is insane.

            It’s inconsistencies like this that make me believe that, for all the science about climate change, its really about one group of people scamming others. If you cannot block and tackle, you probably should not expect to be a contender for the Outland Trophy.

  2. Why not impose a special sales tax on all taxable transactions within X miles of the sea coast or any tidal body of water that is likely to rise and cause flooding damage? One could also impose an additional real estate tax on those locations. That way the beneficiaries of the funding, many of which are likely have buildings located in a flood plain, could pay for their benefits.

    It’s not unlike the much of the City of Alexandria that is built in areas that flood with any significant rain storm. It seems unfair for those people who have built or purchased property in areas prone to flooding to expect the rest of society to bail them out.

    • I like the idea of a special tax district like the one the Sandbridge neighborhood of Virginia Beach has to defray (part of) the cost of dredging sand and replenishing its beaches. Flood-prone areas should have special tax districts to fund flood-control and drainage projects.

  3. Subsidence has been known for a century. They built houses on low lying areas despite the knowledge of subsidence in and around the Chesapeake Bay? As far as I’m concerned … they can solve this problem on their own.

  4. Insurance is a way of spreading risk among people whose individual risk is low but potentially catastrophic — think house fire. But in the case of flooding, the risk is much higher for some people, who insist on building in harm’s way. And for me, with an old waterman’s house right on the water but on one of the safest and highest locations in that part of Mathews County, I end up paying flood insurance rates determined by the government on average for everyone whose home is less than a certain height above the high tide line. Let me tell you, I have no interest in seeing all those grandiose McMansions rebuilt, but that’s what my flood insurance is priced to pay for. Moreover, I don’t even want the insurance; only have it because the bank requires it, on a house in a crudely-drawn “flood zone” that sailed through H. Isabel with flying colors (several feet clear). My point: if you want to cause the market to induce a certain kind of behavior, you need to price the consequences accordingly, with some subtlety in how certain neighborhoods or certain low-lying or historically vulnerable structures are insured against floods. Take Norfolk: the vulnerable neighborhoods, streets, even individual houses, are well known, but those distinctions are not made under the current flood insurance system.

    • Correct me if I am wrong, but US gov’t provides flood insurance for shore areas, which essentially promotes building near the water. I suppose we could consider that to be a form of adaption funding for sea level rise.

      As Jim mentions, there is subsiding land (for 2 reasons, natural phenomenon and groundwater use for drinking) and some historic trend for sea level rise. Then there is the massively destructive several extra feet sea level rise (+2 to 3 feet) due to CO2, which has not yet really happened yet. It is perhaps useful to categorize spending based on “background sea level rise at Hampton Roads” vs. “catastrophic extra sea level rise due to CO2”.

  5. Everyone has a responsibility for what is happening but some have denied the issue and some have faked what they knew, like Exxon, to make money while they could. I don’t understand why VA bought the fake. According to a US News article in 2012, Virginia lawmakers allowed a study on its coastline to begin on the state’s dime only after all references to climate change or global warming were removed from its funding proposal. Stolle told The Virginian-Pilot those were “left wing-terms,” and that “political speech” was eventually removed and replaced with “recurrent flooding,” “coastal resiliency,” and “increased flooding risk.”

    Meanwhile the DOD has been looking at the issue since 2006. Their analysis says by 2050, three installations in Virginia are projected to lose more than 15 percent of their land area to the sea according to the intermediate scenario. … The most severely affected VA installations are Joint Base Langley-Eustis and NAS Ocea¬na Dam Neck in Virginia.

    Although the sea has only risen by 8 inches since 1950, it is now rising by 1 inch every 3 years, its speed of rise having accelerated over the last ten years

    One plan … Hampton Roads Sewage District in Virginia has initiated a $25 million pilot project to inject water underground to slow land sinkage. The budget could increase to $1 billion if the project is a success. Starting in 2018, the city will inject a million gallons of water a day underground. Replenishing the aquifer with HRSD’s SWIFT Water can help slow or even reverse the sinking of land due to withdrawal. Scientists believe that overuse of the aquifer causes about 25 percent of the sinking of land in parts of eastern Virginia.

    This is going to cost the state. Better to plan and begin now. Choices will be difficult. Norfolk has over $1 billion of proposed projects to protect against flooding by 2035. Virginia Beach has allocated $450 million for stormwater projects in the next 5 years.6Hampton Roads has allocated $240 million toward projects to protect sewage systems from flooding.

    • “Although the sea has only risen by 8 inches since 1950, it is now rising by 1 inch every 3 years, its speed of rise having accelerated over the last ten years.

      I’m very skeptical of those numbers. But if they’re true, we’re all doomed.

      • Check out htpp://sealevelrise.org/Virginia
        They re trying to draw up info for a variety of places on the East Coast …

        • Fully agree we need to address sea level rise. But since we have no clue as to what a normal sea level is, we need to be careful that the plans to address sea level rise don’t amount to a huge transfer of wealth from ordinary people to those who likely own more valuable property near water.

      • Subsidence can lower certain land areas by more than an inch every 3 years. While it looks like the sea is rising it’s actually the land sinking.

    • You are right to mention it, ground-water depletion is another major contributor to land subsidence in some areas — in Virginia, notably in Hampton Roads and around West Point I believe — where the groundwater is extracted for irrigation and industrial use as well as for drinking water. Not a factor in Mathews County for reasons peculiar to the geology there (Mathews sits in an ancient meteor crater with poor-nutrient, low, flat land and little drinkable groundwater available).

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