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

Sen. Warner Sees Norfolk Flooding Danger First Hand, Hears From Experts

By Brendan O'Hallarn

Virginia Sen. Mark Warner saw first-hand the issues Norfolk faces with sea level rise and recurrent flooding in an April 1 visit downtown. Then he heard from local experts, including Old Dominion University researchers, working collaboratively to help the community tackle the problem.

Warner took a short walking tour of Norfolk's Hague neighborhood, then listened to presentations from Old Dominion University, the City of Norfolk and the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission (HRPDC) about collaborative efforts to help the community adapt and develop resilience to the shared challenge.

Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim and Christine Morris, the city's chief resilience officer, who led the tour, showed the Democratic senator the Unitarian Church of Norfolk, currently for sale because of persistent flooding.

"I have been speaking about that church nationwide as a symbol of sea level rise. It's dramatic to see it first hand," Warner said following the tours.

In a short presentation to the senator, Morris Foster, Old Dominion's vice president of research, outlined the multi-layered research and advocacy efforts that the University has led in the area of sea level rise and recurrent flooding.

The University's Center for Coastal Physical Oceanography, "the scientific bedrock of our research efforts going back decades," provides a track record of impactful scholarship about sea level rise, Foster said.

With the creation of the Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Initiative (CCSLRI) by President John R. Broderick in 2010, the University applied its multidisciplinary research expertise to the issue, Foster told Warner.

The creation of CCSLRI, Foster said, spearheaded other projects, from the Hampton Roads Sea Level Rise Preparedness and Resilience Intergovernmental Planning Pilot Project, requested by the White House, to the $120 million resilience grant received by the region through the National Disaster Resilience Competition of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In the state's most recent budget, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and the General Assembly provided funding for another collaborative effort, the Commonwealth Center for Recurrent Flooding Resiliency, a joint initiative of Old Dominion and the College of William & Mary's Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS).

Foster said the final designation being sought is a national center for sea level rise research, jointly led by Old Dominion and VIMS. "We want to be the national home of this kind of groundbreaking research," he said.

Morris, Norfolk's chief resilience officer, was quick to credit Old Dominion and HRPDC for their cooperation in a vexing problem. "ODU and the Planning District Commission have both been tremendous partners," she said, in describing Norfolk's selection by the Rockefeller Foundation as one of the world's 100 Resilient Cities.

"We want to design the coastal community of the future, but to do that, we have to adapt and change," Morris said.

Bob Crum, HRPDC executive director, noted that the region comprises 17 cities, "so it's just so important to understand how we deal with these issues and jurisdictional boundaries." Crum expressed gratitude for Old Dominion's "great base of research," which is used to support planning decisions made across Hampton Roads.

After hearing the presentations, Warner asked the group what the region needs, beyond financial concerns. Fraim said the designation of a national center shared by Old Dominion and VIMS would be significant recognition of the region's expertise.

"Do you know if anyone else is taking this particular approach?" Warner asked the group.

"Not yet," Foster replied.

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