Preserving Suffolk’s shared resources

Published 9:35 pm Monday, April 21, 2014

In two years working here as a reporter, I have come to learn that one of Suffolk’s most powerful assets is its natural beauty.

A naysayer might argue that combining “natural” and “beauty” when it comes to this city is just a smidgen over the top.

I would ask if they had ever walked Washington Ditch in the Great Dismal Swamp, arriving at an eerily placid Lake Drummond to find otter splashing around the shallow edges, or cruised one of the city’s northern creeks on a bright morning.

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Like other communities on the Chesapeake Bay, Suffolk is negotiating the challenge of balancing economic development with environmental issues. How well it does that depends upon whom you ask.

While local officials hear much from developers wanting to grow the city and create jobs, they may not get the opportunity to listen to those other voices, which would hope to see that natural beauty protected into the future.

But to get its balancing act right, the city needs to hear equally from both. One group working actively to tell the other side of the story is the Nansemond River Preservation Alliance, and another is Suffolk River Heritage.

Ever since the Suffolk and Nansemond merged in the 1970s, the notion of Suffolk’s north and south — which includes downtown — being treated as two distinct places, one being pushed ahead with public investment and the other left to battle on its own, has taken root.

Citizen efforts to dismantle this perception or this reality — if the two could ever be separated — are a great thing. One effort this Thursday by the NRPA will bring a panel discussion to the Suffolk Center for the Cultural Arts.

With three speakers — a local waterman, a man who was responsible for ensuring the Navy is prepared for sea-level rise in Hampton Roads and the president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation — the discussion will deal with managing Suffolk’s natural assets and benefiting from the opportunities they present.

The panelists will take questions from the audience, meaning the discussion will potentially branch off in any direction the public sees fit.

Mayor Linda T. Johnson will offer opening remarks.

After a half-hour reception, the program begins at 7:30 p.m. Registration is not required.

Though it engages non-North Suffolk audiences in many other ways, most notably including with outreach into the city’s public schools, it’s encouraging to see the NRPA host an event downtown — one that will raise important considerations for all of Suffolk.