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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Sea Level Rise Event Gives Region a ‘Reality Check’ on Cooperation

Civic leaders, emergency planners, environmental advocates and other stakeholders in the shared struggle against rising sea levels gathered at Old Dominion University on Tuesday, March 17 for a "reality check" about how the region is facing this issue together.

Co-hosted by Old Dominion University's Mitigation and Adaptation Research Institute (MARI) and the Urban Land Institute of Hampton Roads (ULI), the Resilient Region Reality Check provided individuals representing organizations with sometimes competing interests an opportunity to sit down together and work through questions that need to be answered about the threat of rising seas.

In small groups, participants debated and shared knowledge in answering questions such as "What are the main threats for communities in Hampton Roads?" and "How much should we spend?" and "What should we spend it on to reduce disaster risk and increase resilience?"

The Urban Land Institute has worked with Old Dominion University on other reality check events, including a day-long session in 2013 in the Ted Constant Convocation Center, where participants debated how best to plan for the addition of 300,000 residents to Hampton Roads - the projected population growth of the region.

ULI executive director Dan Bell said this week's event grew out of conversations with MARI director Hans-Peter Plag, ODU professor of ocean, earth and atmospheric sciences.

"ULI's primary focus is about strategic land use," Bell said. "If we are going to make the best strategic land decisions for this or any coastal region, it makes complete sense to factor in the fact that our sea levels are rising.

"We have been planning this event since last year through conversations with Dr. Plag and Dr. Michelle Covi (ODU assistant professor of practice), and we're excited to incorporate the research of Old Dominion University about sea level rise into our future events," Bell continued."

Covi, lead Old Dominion organizer for the event, said a key aspect of the reality check was the mix of stakeholders who participated.

"The event was a community conversation about how to increase resilience in the region between leaders from government, business and non-profit sectors as well as citizens with an emphasis on the increasing flood risk," Covi said.

The event is also important in building a base of knowledge that will be incorporated into the national sea level rise pilot project that the University is spearheading.

"Old Dominion University is really the tip of the spear here," Bell said. "We are pleased to do anything we can to contribute to this body of expertise."

In 2014, the White House tasked Old Dominion with leading a pilot project aimed at developing a regional "whole of government" and "whole of community" approach to sea level rise preparedness and resilience planning in Hampton Roads that also can be used as a template for other regions.

MARI's mission is to engage in mitigation and adaptation research to provide the knowledge needed by coastal communities to handle the challenges, and utilize the opportunities, of climate change and sea level rise.

For more information on the pilot project, visit ODU's Center for Sea Level Rise website.

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