Officials work to find profitability in sea level rise
22 Oct 2014
When the Chrysler Museum of Art pops up in news stories about sea level rise (like this one), Susan Leidy, the museum's deputy director, gets phone calls.
She can hear the worry in the voices of people who have loaned the museum art or are thinking about it:
"What's going on? Are our things safe? Should we lend to you at all?"
Leidy related the anecdote about the Hague museum, which has a movable floodgate at the front entry, at a Tuesday breakfast forum called "Sea Level Rise and Your Business."
It was organized by the Virginia Coastal Coalition, a group headed by Joe Bouchard, former delegate and commander of Norfolk Naval Station who now is a Cox Communications executive.
Art aside, one theme that emerged during the wide-ranging discussion was: This can't be all doom-and-gloom. We can deal with it. And if we're smart, we can make money.
"If we fix the problems here, we can sell the solution to Savannah when they start getting a little wet," said Skip Stiles, director of the environmental group Wetlands Watch, which focuses on sea level rise issues.
Hampton Roads, partly because of sinking land, has the highest rate of sea level rise on the East Coast. Fixing the problems here, however, will require more regional cooperation on sea level rise than so far achieved, said Bobby Tajan, Norfolk's floodplain administrator.
"We don't play well in each others' sandboxes right now," he said.
A question from the audience about who the region's go-to sea level rise representative is in the General Assembly was met with a few moments of silence. Stiles suggested Sen. Mamie Locke and Del. Chris Stolle, who head a state subcommittee on flooding issues.
The leadership uncertainty could be because the region hasn't decided conclusively what it wants from the state, said Christine Morris, Norfolk's chief resilience officer - a new position funded by the Rockefeller Foundation to deal, in part, with sea level rise.
She said it will take time to shape the region's response to sea level rise, one that will have to plan for the next 50 to 100 years. Depending on the estimate, sea level could rise 1-1/2 to 7 feet by 2100.
Morris said the region's message - crafted with the hopes of attracting state and federal funding - could start from the premise that every generation has its special challenge.
There was the Depression, the world wars, the creation of the federal highway system. As for sea level rise, she said, "This is our generation's problem to solve."