As sea rises, Virginia Beach residents ask city for better protection from storms

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Residents will get to weigh in throughout December and January in seven public forums as part of the city’s effort to create a master plan for how to address sea-level rise.

Experts say the sea has risen about 9 inches in the Norfolk/Virginia Beach area over the last 50 years, and it’s rising faster than ever before.

By the end of 2018, the city hopes to have a list of specific solutions to combat sea-level rise and frequent flooding in low-lying areas.

“The City of Virginia Beach recognizes these challenges and has taken a proactive stance to ensure a vibrant future,” said Phillip Davenport, the city’s director of public works. “Sea-level is expected to continue increasing in the future and at a high rate.”

On Monday, residents from the Fairfield neighborhood showed up to Kempsville High School with pictures of their homes after Hurricane Matthew in October 2016.

Sean McGinty, who lives on Rolleston Drive, says the storm brought four feet of water to his backyard.

“I have made many improvements to my house, but the one thing I cannot do is protect my house from flooding,” he said. “Sea-level rise is occurring, but for the areas that are being affected I don’t know if they are recognizing all the areas.”

The city is working to develop its 5-year plan, named the Comprehensive Sea Level Rise and Recurrent Flooding Analysis and Planning Study. It started the plan in 2015 to provide a blueprint for flood resiliency. The plan features a three-phase approach: to assess current problems, find ways to reduce risk and increase resiliency.

A team of professors from Old Dominion University’s Resilience Collaborative is helping the city pinpoint problem spots by using mapping systems and surveying residents.

“It’s all this local knowledge about what’s in the community … We want to know where it’s flooding. We want to know what kinds of things they are concerned about,” said Michelle Covi, assistant professor of practice in the Ocean, Earth and Atmospheric Department at ODU.

Covi says with more extreme weather and aging infrastructure, she expects flooding through Hampton Roads to get worse in the years to come.

“We may be able to try to keep up with it, we may be able to adapt to it, but we are not going to be able to reverse it and it’s not going to go away.”

The city plans to spend $300 million over the next 15 years on stormwater improvements.

Until those projects are complete, residents say they want the city to think twice about approving new development near neighborhoods that do not drain quickly.

“I would like you to help me protect the property I pay taxes on,” McGinty said, directing his statement to the city.

All meetings will take place over the next two months from 6 to 8 p.m. See the full list of meetings here.

Davenport says each meeting will focus on particular watersheds in the area, such as the Lynnhaven and Elizabeth rivers, and the city’s 31 drainage basins. City officials ask that residents attend the meeting dedicated to their specific watershed.