Experts: Prepare for flooding

Published 9:32 pm Wednesday, October 21, 2015

By Allison T. Williams


Some experts predict Hampton Roads will experience a sea-level rise of 1.5 feet by 2060, generating flooding that, over decades, could alter the region’s landscape and economy for future generations.


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The region, in a worst-case scenario, could experience an 8-foot rise over 100 years, according to a report produced by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

“It’s going to change the extent of flooding in this region,” said Skip Stiles, executive director of the Norfolk-based Wetlands Watch. He noted that Hampton Roads has the highest rate of sea-level rise on the East Coast.

Stiles and Mary-Carson Stiff, the organization’s policy director, were guest speakers at the Nansemond River Preservation Alliance’s River Talk on Tuesday at the Crittenden-Eclipse-Hobson Ruritan Hall. Nearly three dozen residents, most from the waterfront community, packed the room.

Hampton Roads communities need to be proactive, taking long-range flood estimates into consideration when developing property and taking steps to reduce the impact of rising waters, Stiles said. This could include leaving more open spaces along waterways to accommodate flooding during storms, he said.

“The federal government recognizes that it has got to take steps to protect assets that are valuable to our economy,” Stiles said, referencing numerous military facilities in Hampton Roads and on the Peninsula. “It has a lot of facilities here that are vulnerable.”

The federal government now requires that developers of federally-funded buildings and infrastructure consider projected sea-level rise when planning new projects, Stiles said.

Legislation signed this year requires Virginia’s localities to consider recurrent flooding and projected sea-level rise in their long-range comprehensive plans, which are updated every five years, Stiles said. Most Hampton Roads cities are also required to provide strategies for dealing with the rising waters.

Most people with flood insurance saw rates jump an average of 20 percent in 2015, said Stiff. The increases are part of the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency’s efforts to shore up its federally-funded National Flood Insurance Program, which was $28 billion in debt in 2011. The total liability of the flood insurance program in 2011 was $571 billion, she said.

Any structure on one of FEMA’s 100-year-floodplain maps — the areas deemed at highest risk for flooding — and being funded through a federal mortgage is required to carry flood insurance, Stiff said. Despite the proximity to the Chuckatuck Creek and James River, not many homes in the Crittenden-Eclipse area fall within the highest risk zone, she added.

Furthermore, Suffolk doesn’t have many new subdivisions cropping up on floodplains, a sign of good, managed development by the city, Stiff said.

The flood insurance program offers a community rating system, a voluntary program that awards credits to participating localities and reduces flood insurance rates by up to 5 percent per tier for citizens, Stiff said. Although many of the credits are for programs and initiatives already in place by municipalities, only six in Virginia participated in 2013, she said. Residents paying flood insurances in those six localities saved a total of $2.8 million, according to Stiff.

In coming months, Wetlands Watch staff will reach out to local government officials to offer help enrolling in the program or addressing any other flood-related issues, Stiff said.