Award for Excellence Presented to VASG-Funded Project in Norfolk Neighborhood

Wetlands Watch received Award of Excellence for their work in resiliency design in Chesterfield Heights. ©Wetlands Watch
Wetlands Watch received Award of Excellence for their work in resiliency design in Chesterfield Heights. ©Wetlands Watch

By Jugal Patel, Student Correspondent

On September 24, Norfolk’s Clean City Celebration presented an award for excellence to Wetlands Watch and its executive director Skip Stiles for developing environmental resilience in the city’s communities. The award recognized a year-long effort, funded by Virginia Sea Grant (VASG), to prepare the historic waterfront neighborhood of Chesterfield Heights for sea level rise.

“The project was the first in the country,” said Cathy Lewis, host of WHRV-FM’s public affairs radio show HearSay and mistress of ceremonies for the Clean City evening event.

In addition to planning for community adaptation before a storm hit, the Wetlands Watch project also set out to create a community of practice prepared to address the region’s emerging needs in adaptation. The project brought together architects and engineers, professionals as well as students and faculty at the area’s two major universities, Old Dominion University (ODU) and Hampton University (HU).

HU architecture students and ODU engineering students did the preliminary Chesterfield Heights design work, with the support of over 30 professionals who provided feedback on the students’ ideas. Neighborhood residents joined the conversation early in the design phase, so that their needs could help to guide the project.

ODU engineers calculated that the kinds of modifications proposed would reduce present day flooding too. When calculating how the new practices would affect storms like the 2009 nor’easter, they found flooding would decrease by 90%.

While the project focused on one neighborhood, Stiles sees it as a first step in the larger journey toward adapting the nation to sea level rise.

“I think it starts to inform efforts all along the coastline,” said Stiles. “It will be a long, time-consuming, and very expensive effort. So we need to start today.”

You can see the architecture and engineering students’ final presentation to the city of Norfolk’s watershed taskforce.

Next week, the Virginia Sea Grant will begin publishing an in-depth, six-part series, “Adapting to Rising Seas,” on the award-winning Chesterfield Heights resiliency design project. Stories will be published every Friday and explore different aspects of the project.

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