Coastal Adaptation & Resilience Master Plan
The Need for Coastal Resilience
Coastal Virginia faces an existential threat from rising waters caused by unabated human-produced carbon emissions and the climate changes they inflict. High rates of land subsidence, combined with sea level rise, means Virginia is experiencing one of the highest rates of relative sea level rise in the United States. More intense hurricanes and nor’easters, more frequent heavy rainfall events and increased frequency of tidal flooding from sea level rise will combine to threaten the millions of Virginian’s who call the coastal region home. The year 2019 was the fifth consecutive year in which the United States suffered 10 or more weather and climate disasters, at an average of 12.6 events per year - more than twice the 40-year average. In 2018- 2019, Virginia experienced impacts from nine such events with a total cost of approximately $1.6 billion.1 These hazards to our unique coast present an opportunity for Virginia to lead in coastal resilience, leveraging economic development opportunities associated with adaptation and mitigation, using natural and nature based solutions for additional natural resource benefits whenever feasible, and advancing expertise at the Commonwealth Center for Recurrent Flooding Resiliency (CCRFR). The Secretary defines resilience as “the ability of natural and built coastal environments to WITHSTAND AND recover from hazardous events such as extreme weather, storm surge, and recurrent flooding."
 “U.S. Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters.” (NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), 2019), https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/billions/events/VA/2018
Virginia’s Coastal Resilience Master Plan
Governor Ralph S. Northam recognized that Virginia must increase resilience to sea level rise and natural hazards when he issued Executive Order Number 24 on November 2, 2018. This executive order provides a pathway to increase resilience to these hazards in the Commonwealth and includes a provision for the Commonwealth’s first Coastal Resilience Master Plan, with the goal of aligning state efforts and assisting local governments in reducing flood risk through planning and implementing large-scale flood protection and adaptation initiatives.
The development of the Virginia Coastal Resilience Master Plan is the responsibility of the Commonwealth’s Chief Resilience Officer (The Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources), with the Assistance of the Special Assistant to the Governor for Coastal Adaptation and Protection (established by 2.2-435.11 of the Code of Virginia), in consultation with stakeholders at all levels - including but not limited to: local governments, state agencies, Regional Planning District Commissions, the Secure and Resilient Commonwealth Panel, federal partners, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, partner universities in the Virginia Sea Grant Program and the Commonwealth Center for Recurrent Flooding.
2020 Master Planning Framework
On October 22, 2020, Governor Northam announced the release of the Virginia Coastal Resilience Master Planning Framework (the Framework), This document, the result of a nearly two-year process, is the beginning - a framework for action. Quoting Governor Northam, “The science is clear: climate change is threatening our way of life, and there is no time to waste. We must act quickly and decisively—and the Coastal Master Planning Framework will be our roadmap to resilience in coastal Virginia. This innovative, science-based approach uses cost-effective, nature-based, and equitable strategies to protect our people, our communities, our infrastructure, and our economy right now and for generations to come.
The Framework divides coastal Virginias into four master planning regions. The Master Plan will identify priority projects within each of the four regions, which reside within the boundaries of the eight coastal Planning District Commissions and Regional Commissions (PDCs/ RCs).
- Hampton Roads (Hampton Roads PDC)
- Rural Coastal Virginia (Accomack-Northampton PDC, Middle Peninsula PDC, Northern Neck PDC)
- Fall Line North (George Washington Regional Commission and Northern Virginia Regional Commission)
- Fall Line South (Crater PDC and PlanRVA- formerly Richmond Regional Planning District)
The Framework lays out the threats from climate change, what’s at stake in Virginia, and key actions and processes that will take the Commonwealth to a full Master Plan. Once the Master Plan is released, in late Fall 2021, it will be updated every 5 years.
Guiding Principles and Goals
The Framework lists five guiding principles that will influence the Master Plan and related resilience initiatives:
- Acknowledge climate change and its consequences, and base decision making on the best available science.
- Identify and address socioeconomic inequities and work to enhance equity through coastal adaptation and protection efforts.
- Recognize the importance of protecting and enhancing green infrastructure like natural coastal barriers and fish and wildlife habitat by prioritizing nature-based solutions.
- Utilize community and regional scale planning to the maximum extent possible, seeking approaches tailored to the needs of individual communities.
Virginia Flood Freeboard Standard
Virginia must ensure the resilience of state-owned buildings by setting a minimum freeboard standard for state owned buildings. The Chief Resilience Officer shall collaboratively work within state government and with assistance from regional, state, and national experts, and stakeholders, to issue, within 180 days from issuance of this Order, a regional or statewide freeboard 3 standard. The standard shall apply to all projects beginning initial design for state-owned buildings beginning on or after January 1, 2020. This standard shall apply to new construction and not renovations to existing state buildings and be applied barring extenuating circumstances as determined by the Chief Resilience Officer. In creating this standard, the Chief Resilience Officer shall consult with: the Secretary of Administration, the Secretary of Commerce and Trade, the Secretary of Finance, the Secretary of Transportation, and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.
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