Story by Emily Kenworthy, Georgia Sea Grant
For years, University of Georgia Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant has been helping coastal communities in low lying areas build resilience into planning efforts. Sitting adjacent to some of these communities are U.S. Department of Defense military installations that are just as vulnerable to coastal hazards.
In 2019, the Department of Defense identified climate challenges facing military installations across the country in its “Report on Effects of a Changing Climate to the Department of Defense.” Of the 79 installations included in the report, 53 were experiencing recurring flooding. Flooding and extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, pose the greatest risk to installations in the Southeast coastal region.
To help protect coastal installations and surrounding communities, UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant secured funding from the Department of Defense and the National Sea Grant College Program to hire Michelle Covi as the country’s first Coastal Resilience DOD Liaison in 2021.
Covi’s role involves assisting military communities in Georgia and across the Southeast in becoming more resilient to coastal hazards by improving collaboration and coordination between the DOD as well as with Sea Grant programs, resilience specialists, local governments and community leaders.
“Climate change, shoreline erosion, extreme weather, flooding—the DOD recognizes that these are significant threats to coastal installations, and flooding doesn’t stop at the fence line,” says Covi. She understands that military resilience projects, which often involve land acquisition and conservation to maintain a buffer between installations and surrounding communities, require a collaborative approach between local, state and federal entities.
For the last year, Covi has created a suite of reports and resources that highlight best practices for working with installations and provide examples of successful resilience projects in military communities. These resources are being used by Sea Grant programs, military installations, and coastal resilience specialists across the region to inform collaborative projects.
Georgia Sea Grant is also having a national impact through Covi’s leadership. She is directly supporting Sea Grant colleagues and university partners with applying for DOD funding for climate resilience projects. Her efforts helped bring $6.48 million to Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium to fund the installation of a living shoreline at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi. The project, funded by the National Coastal Resilience Fund, will reduce wave erosion, prevent marsh degradation and improve the base’s resilience to extreme weather events.
Her work on a national level is also enhancing local partnerships. In Georgia, Covi helped connect personnel at Fort Stewart with experts at the UGA Institute of Government who are applying for federal grants to support studies looking at transportation infrastructure vulnerabilities, sustainable development, and other resilience issues impacting the installation and surrounding community.
Fort Stewart is the largest army installation east of the Mississippi, spanning six counties in Georgia’s coastal plain. The base can train up to 50,0000 soldiers annually and has an economic impact of $4.99 billion.
Traveling between Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield, which are part of the same installation but geographically separated, requires the use of community roads that are at risk from flooding events caused by high tides, intense rain events and rising groundwater levels. These events impact those commuting to and from the base.
“We hope to identify natural infrastructure solutions that improve transportation issues, like introducing rain gardens to manage stormwater runoff or protecting and restoring marshes and wetlands that are threatened by development,” says Scott Pippin, a public service faculty member at the UGA Institute of Government who is managing the unit’s defense community program.
In addition to looking at flooding issues, the team hopes to support compatible land use studies that look at sustainable development around the installation to maintain the Fort’s buffer.
“The idea is to develop in the right place to protect the natural infrastructure, like forests and marshes that help clean the air, mitigate flooding and improve water quality,” says Pippin.
“Through the UGA Institute of Government’s on-the-ground planning and implementation efforts, paired with Covi’s unique role in coordinating regional efforts through the DOD Liaison Program, UGA is becoming a national leader enhancing military community resilience,” says Mark Risse, director of UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.
“Sharing lessons learned with other Sea Grant programs, and experts in the region and around the country, UGA is helping create safer military communities that are less prone to disaster as well as a stronger military that is better prepared to respond when needed.”