Voters in Virginia Beach have approved one of the bigger bonds in the US to pay for infrastructure projects to protect against rising seas and intense storms, suggesting that more Americans will eventually be able to adapt to climate change. Dollars are willing to spend.
Tuesday’s “yes” vote earned nearly 73% support in the coastal town of about 450,000 people, according to unofficial results from the Virginia Elections Department.
“The script was flipped a few years ago across coastal Virginia,” said Skip Styles, executive director of Wetlands Watch, a Virginia-based environmental group that partners with local governments on climate change issues.
“Now everybody’s going, ‘Hmm, I think we better deal with this. There’s something going on here, and it’s not just one of these rounds of bad storms,'” Styles said.
The $568 million bond will do anything from elevating roads to closing a 100-acre (40-hectare) city golf course to collect storm water. More water pumping stations are also planned to reduce flooding.
City officials say property taxes are expected to increase from $115 to $171 per year for a home of average appraised value.
In Virginia Beach the land is sinking and the seas are rising at an alarming rate. Since 1960, sea level has risen by about a foot (0.3 m). And they are likely to grow 1.5 feet to 3 feet (0.5 to 1 m) in their next fifties.
Most of Virginia Beach is located on the low-lying coastal plains. In tidal rivers and tributaries the water can flow slowly, sometimes going nowhere during heavy rains and high tides.
In 2016, 1,400 homes and businesses were flooded after rain that ended with the remnants of Hurricane Matthew. Homes located miles from the city’s beaches on the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay were submerged for the first time since a drainage system collapsed.
Similar weather events preceded passing bond issues in other cities.
For example, the Houston area passed $2.5 billion in bonds to pay for flood control projects in 2018, a year after Hurricane Harvey. In 2017, Miami voters approved nearly $200 million in bonds to pay for flood control measures in the wake of Hurricane Irma.
According to a report from Old Dominion University, flood control projects in Virginia Beach could help the city avoid flood damage as well as the associated economic impacts in the coming decades. The loss would be equal to about a quarter of Virginia Beach’s GDP – or the total production of goods and services.
“As flooding becomes more prevalent, insurers will raise premiums, deny coverage and at some point move out of Virginia Beach altogether,” explained economics professor Robert McNab. Associated Press last week. “Businesses will have more difficulty moving goods to market and, of course, residents will have more problems moving around the area.”
But the bondage in Virginia Beach won’t end the city’s flooding havoc. City council member John Moss, a major force behind the referendum, said the money would cover only a third of the total need to protect against a 1.5-foot rise in sea level.