If there was one underlying current to William & Mary Law School’s sixth annual Virginia Coastal Policy Center (VCPC) Conference on “Building a Resilient Virginia,” it was collaboration. Attendees came from far and wide and were ready to roll up their sleeves, share best ideas, and get to work.
“This room knows the urgency of the conversation that we’re engaging in today,” said William & Mary President Katherine Rowe during opening remarks. “Rising sea levels and storms pose severe threats to Virginia’s coastal communities, and that means to everything that we do, to our economy, to every aspect of our community. These problems are not going to be solved by one group alone, and we all have an incredibly important part to play.”
Among the groups present during the Friday, Nov. 2 event were experts from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), Virginia Sea Grant, coastal planning district commissions, nonprofit organizations, legislators, the Pamunkey tribe, and several groups from Louisiana.
Rowe said that the challenges Virginia faces are of such complexity that they will require sustained collaboration of the kind that the VCPC has cultivated for a number of years.
“Today’s conference, to me, illustrates the incredible power of collaboration across sectors and disciplines,” Rowe said. “Partnerships between government, higher education, the military and the private sector strengthen our shared interests; they are critical to solving the problem of coastal stability.”
Elizabeth Andrews, Director of the VCPC, promised “an exciting, jam-packed day,” and more than delivered. The morning was kicked off by a keynote address given by Rear Admiral Ann Phillips (U.S. Navy, ret.), the newly appointed Special Assistant to the Governor for Coastal Adaptation and Protection.
Morning panels then featured discussions about building resilience for Virginia’s green and gray infrastructure, followed by a legislative panel composed of Senator Monty Mason and Delegates David Bulova, Keith Hodges and Christopher Stolle discussing legislative options for building resilience in the state. Continuing the resilience theme, the lunchtime keynote saw Chief Robert Gray of the Pamunkey Tribe and Dr. Ashley Spivey, Director of the Pamunkey Tribal Research Center, talk about “The Pamunkey as Partners in Resilience.” They provided attendees with an engaging history of the tribe and their cultural emphasis on natural resources.
In the afternoon, attendees heard from representatives of organizations involved in creating a water management economy in Louisiana, and how such an effort could be pursued in Virginia. Panelists included representatives of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, LSU Coastal Sustainability Studio, and “The Water Campus,” a collaborative research campus in Baton Rouge that focuses on coastal restoration and sustainability. A final panel explored the economic benefits to Virginia of land conservation and ecotourism.
Capping off the day was a closing keynote address by Governor Ralph Northam, discussing the resilience initiatives of his Administration. “While the challenges we face are daunting, I am excited for the opportunities we have to work together and put ideas into practice,” Northam said.
The Governor then put words into action, signing a sweeping executive order to bolster Virginia’s resilience to sea level rise and natural hazards. Executive Order Twenty Four lays out a series of actions the Commonwealth will undertake to limit the impacts of flooding, extreme weather events and wildfires.
The Executive Order is among the most comprehensive actions undertaken by any state to improve resilience and protect people and property from natural catastrophes. Significantly, the Executive Order directs the development of a Virginia “Coastal Resilience Master Plan” to protect our coastline from sea level rise and extreme weather.
“As extreme weather events become more frequent and more intense, the safety and economic well-being of every Virginian is put at greater risk,” Northam said. “The actions the Commonwealth will undertake as a result of this Executive Order will ensure we address this growing challenge head on, setting Virginia on a path towards resilience to near and long-term natural catastrophes and enhancing our public health and economic vitality with a whole-of-government approach.”
Conference attendees were delighted to witness the signing of this important gubernatorial initiative.
The Sixth Annual Virginia Coastal Policy Center Conference was sponsored by Virginia Sea Grant, the Virginia Environmental Endowment, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and the Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission.
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