The Bulletin

$320 million headed to Norfolk Harbor, flood protection projects

By: - January 20, 2022 12:04 am
A ferry passes the General Dynamic shipyard in Norfolk. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

A ferry passes the General Dynamics shipyard in Norfolk. Shipyards in Hampton Roads have lobbied for natural gas capacity in recent years. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Norfolk will receive $320 million in federal funds to deepen and widen its harbor as well as construct a major flood protection system to shield the city’s downtown from recurrent flooding linked to sea level rise. 

“Typically the way we get money for projects of this scale and magnitude is after a disaster,” said Norfolk Councilwoman Andria McClellan. “What’s unique about this is that we don’t have to wait for that. This will allow us to prepare in advance as opposed to react after.” 

The money is the result of the projects’ inclusion in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ annual work plan, a list of civil engineering projects to mitigate flooding, restore ecosystems and ease commercial navigation that the corps plans to carry out in fiscal year 2022. Funding came from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. 

Norfolk is slated to get $250 million to construct the first phase of an extensive system of storm surge barriers, tidal gates, floodwalls, levees and pump stations that will help protect the city’s downtown. The total project is expected to cost $1.6 billion. 

McClellan said the city would be responsible for putting roughly $134 million toward the first phase of the project and expects to work “closely with the commonwealth to identify a funding stream.” 

“The fact of the matter is that we can’t realistically take these types of projects solely on the backs of Norfolk’s taxpayers,” she said. 

An additional $70 million will go toward deepening Norfolk Harbor to 55 feet, making it the deepest port on the U.S. East Coast, and widening its channels to allow the two-way flow of ultra-large container vessels. 

“We are building the East Coast’s premier trade gateway,” said Virginia Port Authority CEO and Executive Director Stephen Edwards in a statement. “Deep, wide channels will support many Virginia businesses and fuel cargo growth, job creation and economic investment across the Commonwealth.”

Virginia state and federal officials have sought funds for both of the Norfolk projects for years, with the congressional delegation repeatedly urging the Army Corps to fund the work. In 2018, the state budget included $350 million for dredging in the harbor channel, which began the following year. Virginia Port Authority spokesperson Joe Harris said the $70 million is expected to pay back expenditures Virginia has already made.

In a joint statement Wednesday, four members of Virginia’s Democratic congressional delegation — Sen. Tim Kaine, Sen. Mark Warner, Rep. Bobby Scott and Rep. Elaine Luria — said that “after years of advocating for this funding, we are thrilled that Virginia will receive the federal dollars it needs to carry out these projects, which will help further strengthen our supply chains, mitigate the growing risks of sea level rise, and secure our economic and national security interests in and around the region.”

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Sarah Vogelsong
Sarah Vogelsong

Sarah is Editor-in-Chief of the Mercury and previously its environment and energy reporter. She has worked for multiple Virginia and regional publications, including Chesapeake Bay Journal, The Progress-Index and The Caroline Progress. Her reporting has won awards from groups such as the Society of Environmental Journalists and Virginia Press Association, and she is an alumna of the Columbia Energy Journalism Initiative and Metcalf Institute Science Immersion Workshop for Journalists. She is a graduate of the College of William and Mary. Contact her at [email protected]