The Bulletin

Virginia inks contract for state coastal flooding plan, expected to be done before Northam leaves office

By: - March 19, 2021 12:02 am

A statue of Neptune on Virginia Beach’s oceanfront. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

The engineering firm that oversaw Virginia Beach’s $3.8 million sea level rise and flooding study will take a leading role in developing Virginia’s Coastal Resilience Master Plan, a comprehensive roadmap for how the state intends to respond to rising sea levels driven by climate change in the coming years. 

Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration announced Thursday that it has awarded a contract to Dewberry to work with the Department of Conservation and Recreation and other officials on the master plan, which is expected to be completed by November, just months before Northam leaves office. 

Secretary of Natural Resources and Virginia Chief Resilience Officer Matt Strickler in a news release acknowledged the “ambitious schedule” to complete the master plan. Nevertheless he said he was “confident that we will finish this historic effort before the end of Governor Northam’s term.” 

The Dewberry contract is for $2.6 million, said Northam spokesperson Alena Yarmosky. Other companies that will act as part of the Dewberry team are the Water Institute of the Gulf, GKY & Associates, Vision Planning and Consulting and the Miles Agency.

According to the administration, the latter three subcontractors are “Virginia-certified small, women-, and minority-owned subcontractors.”

Virginia unveiled a preliminary plan for how it intends to grapple with sea level rise this October in the form of a document known as the Coastal Resilience Master Planning Framework. 

The framework, beyond laying out the “guiding principles” for how Virginia will enhance coastal resilience, organized the state’s coastal areas into four regions, surveyed efforts already underway and sketched out a framework for the development of the final Coastal Resilience Master Plan. 

Critically, it also for the first time acknowledged that climate change is driving the sea level rise and flooding that threaten the commonwealth’s coastal regions. 

Virginia is facing particularly acute challenges from sea level rise. The state has more than 10,000 miles of shoreline, and its Hampton Roads region, home to the world’s largest naval base, is experiencing the highest rate of sea level rise on the East Coast. Scientists have identified the causes of the rapidly rising waters as not only climate change but also long-term land subsidence linked to tectonic plate shifting and heavy groundwater withdrawals in the southern part of the state. 

Northam’s administration said that Dewberry will also be tasked with overseeing a “robust public outreach campaign” to ensure meaningful public input into the crafting of the master plan. 

“It is critically important that we get buy-in for the Master Plan at the community level, and that we are diligent in reaching out to both traditional partners, and to traditionally underserved communities in urban and rural areas,” said Special Assistant to the Governor for Coastal Adaptation and Protection Ann Phillips. “The Commonwealth has a critical role to play in ensuring that the benefits of enhanced coastal resilience are distributed equitably, and that no community is disproportionately burdened.”

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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.