The Hampton Roads Adaptation Forum:
Keeping coastal Virginia on the frontlines of resilience

New associate director
joins Virginia Sea Grant
October 26, 2018

While the coast of Hampton Roads might look the same, the way our communities think about it has changed a lot over the past six years. As the region addresses resilience challenges, leaders have found the latest information and ideas through the Hampton Roads Adaptation Forum.

“We have moved from an early understanding, just trying to grasp what is sea level rise in 2012, to now, where we’re talking about how to implement things on the ground, what are the things we need to do in terms of policy, design, what’s happening in other places,” says Michelle Covi, who organizes the forum in collaboration with the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission.

The forum, which began in 2012, consists of quarterly meetings with resilience-themed presentations, panels, and discussions. The forum convenes government planners, academic researchers, private-sector firms, and non-profits throughout the region to keep them informed of the latest science and best practices in adaptation.

The presentations seem to be helping, according to the forum’s participants. In a recent survey, attendees said the information and conversation at the forum contributed to approximately 68 percent of the resilience in this region.

Covi, a Virginia Sea Grant extension agent and assistant professor of practice at Old Dominion University, said she’s also observed that people are more willing to discuss and confront challenges from flooding in Hampton Roads head-on.

“All of these different cities can compete, but in this space, they’ve collaborated together and created this relationship with each other that has really pulled the region into the lead in many areas of resilience,” Covi says.

The most recent Forum, held Oct. 19 at Clark Nexsen’s Virginia Beach office, focused on resilience and environmental quality. Attendees heard about resilience accreditation programs and how Virginia’s marshes are responding to sea level rise. Other presenters discussed a pilot project for land conservation and resilience along the Elizabeth River, nature-based coastal protection projects in Galveston, Texas, and lessons learned from plans and designs along the Anacostia River in Washington, D.C.

The forum convenes government planners, academic researchers, private-sector firms, and non-profits throughout the region to keep them informed of the latest science and best practices in adaptation.

Since the forum’s inception, meetings have developed in Virginia and beyond, some of which were modelled after the Hampton Roads Adaptation Forum. Even though other resilience-oriented meetings have also emerged for the Hampton Roads area, Covi says the forum has remained a leader in resilience by staying on the forefront of issues and being proactive rather than reactive.

For example, one forum focused on megaprojects, the large infrastructure projects intended to control flooding, and their benefits and potential pitfalls. At the time, there was the general attitude that a larger project would help this region, but presentations from the engineer of the largest stormwater pump in the world and other scientists indicated this approach might not work for Hampton Roads.

“I felt like things really changed after that conversation,” Covi says. “What that did was give the staff at each of the cities the power to say, 'No, we learned about this. This doesn't work for us.'”

Partnerships with private architecture, engineering, and environmental firms have also contributed to perspectives present in the forum by bringing in speakers from their offices outside of Hampton Roads. These additional voices bring new ideas and wisdom from other projects for the Hampton Roads region to consider.

“The key thing, I think, is that people are really starting to think about things in a new way,” Covi says.

Written by Madeleine Jepsen | Virginia Sea Grant

Video and photos by Aileen Devlin | Virginia Sea Grant

TAKEAWAYS

  • The Hampton Roads Adaptation Forum builds a network of resilience experts for the region.
  • The forum brings together individuals from a variety of disciplines and organizations to discuss and learn about best practices in adaptation to sea level rise.
  • The forum presentations span a variety of topics relevant to the Hampton Roads region.

  • “All of these different cities can compete, but in this space, they've collaborated together and created this relationship with each other that has really pulled the region into the lead in many areas of resilience,” Covi says.
     
    Covi says the forum has remained a leader in resilience by staying on the forefront of issues and being proactive rather than reactive.

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