Above: Students, faculty, and members of participating NGOs upon receiving an award from the city of Norfolk.
In 2014 Virginia Sea Grant (VASG) convened a group of university researchers, NGOs, and community leaders to discuss research projects to address Virginia’s growing sea level rise problems. As a result, we launched a modest $40,000 resilience design project, assembled a diverse faculty-student team (architects, engineers, coastal scientists) that collaborated with community groups, governments, and the Hampton Roads Green Building Council. We worked in a City of Norfolk neighborhood, Chesterfield Heights—a community with both tidal and rainfall flooding problems. On the National Historic Register, Chesterfield Heights is predominantly African-American with a median household income of ~$32,000, and flood insurance rates as high as $3,200 per year.
The year-long research project produced a highly creative, integrated approach with myriad natural and structural options at home, street, and neighborhood scales. A particularly novel invention, a front-yard cistern and planting system, combined many practical features for homeowner-scale solutions. It was affordable, light, modular, and transportable in the bed of a pickup truck. It maintained a sloped front yard for raised homes in order to retain historic district tax credits, and it provided local-grown food options in the plantings. Its patent is pending.
Evaluated with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Storm Water Management Model, the collective design options would have reduced Chesterfield Heights’ flooding experienced in a 2009 Nor’easter by 90 percent. Students from this project were snatched up by local engineering and architectural firms; several commenting to me that it was rare to find students who had experience working in such interdisciplinary teams.
The project team received the City’s Award of Excellence and the designs were included in Virginia’s successful 2016 proposal for a $120M HUD Resilience award to implement design elements—that is a 3,000 percent return on our $40,ooo investment. Leveraging this initiative, we expanded partnerships with engineering and architectural firms, like Clark Nexsen in Virginia Beach, to co-sponsor a resilience research fellow to create additional novel solutions, and train future transdisciplinary problem-solvers. Further with foundation funding, we are expanding this faculty-student research model into additional communities, and integrating more disciplines (e.g. law, policy, finance).
We could tell many similar stories about Virginia’s Watermen’s Heritage Tourism industry, clam and oyster aquaculture farms and hatcheries, and seafood processing facilities. This is how VASG operates—we work collaboratively in leveraged partnerships, conduct strategic investments, build workforce and business capacity, and provide direct economic, social and ecological value to our communities.
Currently, the national Sea Grant program, along with many other federally funded programs, are targeted for termination by the Administration. Luckily, and in a bipartisan way, Congress recognizes the value of Sea Grant, which returns 95 percent of its funding directly to state projects, and the devastating loss that closing these programs would have in Virginia, and in states across the country.
What does VASG provide the Commonwealth? Our $10.5M, seven-year investment returned $203M in additional funds to support jobs and communities in Virginia. We have:
While VASG has made a difference in the lives of Virginians in the coastal zone for decades, we cannot take our success, nor our support, for granted, particularly in today’s dynamic budgetary environment. Congress needs to hear just how important VASG and our partners are. Please help us continue to work for all Virginians, to act as the honest broker of the latest science-based, unbiased information, and to mobilize the best of Virginia to solve challenging coastal and marine resource issues.
Please help us keep the Virginia Sea Grant story alive.
We have a few suggestions below, but no matter what strategy you take, emphasize the positive—the good things that VASG is doing for Virginia! And please let us know via email or a phone call if you do take one of these actions.
Phone calls and emails. Contact your Congressional representatives—if possible, in person. Find your representative at http://www.house.gov/representatives/ and https://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm.
Letters to the Editors. Share your positive experiences with VASG and their partners with others with a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. Congressional offices are monitoring media coverage.
Visit your Representatives or their staff. The U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate are in recess for the following dates: April 10-21, May 29-June 2, July 3-7, and July 31-September 4. The House has an additional week, May 8-12, where they are in recess and back in the Commonwealth. These are wonderful times to meet elected officials and staff in their Districts.
(Photos courtesy of Wetlands Watch.)