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Hampton Roads Adaptation Forum Helps Norfolk’s “Green Infrastructure” Team Secure $4.6M Grant

The growth of green infrastructure in Virginia

By Katherine Sucher, Virginia Sea Grant 

It’s often said that southeastern Virginia is experiencing a one-two punch when it comes to sea level rise: water levels are rising at the same time that coastal land is subsiding. Virginia Sea Grant (VASG) is helping localities strike back.

Local communities are finding they need to collaborate to adapt to changing conditions. In Norfolk, that collaboration is being funded by a $4.6 million grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to restore shorelines and build “green infrastructure” to help absorb stormwater in the city. Green infrastructure is a water management approach that focuses on harnessing the natural water cycle by restoring wetlands, installing rainwater collection systems, and incorporating other elements of the natural environment. 

Representatives from Norfolk, Old Dominion University (ODU), and the Green Infrastructure Center connected at the Hampton Roads Adaptation Forum, a series of workshops developed by VASG, ODU, and Hampton Roads Planning District Commission to facilitate collaboration and communication about sea level rise issues between localities.

According to a recent survey of forum attendees, 83 percent say they have made and followed up on new professional connections at the forum. 75 percent indicated that their office was more likely to hold meetings, develop adaptation plans and lead projects pertaining to sea level rise since the Forms began in October 2013.

Scott Smith, senior design construction project manager for the city of Norfolk, is one of those who credit the forum with connecting members of the green infrastructure project team. “The city on its own wouldn’t have been successful [in securing the NWF grant] if it hadn’t been for the collaboration of the total partnership,” says Smith.

The grant will go toward the development of a green infrastructure master plan, training for green infrastructure geared towards veterans and disadvantaged businesses, and the construction and restoration of living shorelines along the Lafayette River. 

Carol Considine, associate professor of engineer technology at ODU, got involved with the project through networking at the forum. She will lead the educational outreach component of the project. Says Considine, “Hampton Roads Adaptation Forum helped position me to be a leader in regional resiliency.”

She also attributes some of the green infrastructure project’s success to the collaborative atmosphere of the forum, which she calls “a good venue for moving forward with solutions.” 

In southeastern Virginia, these solutions won’t be limited to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Grant. The city of Norfolk is also collaborating with the Kimley-Horn consulting engineering company and other firms for a National Disaster Resilience Competition Grant through the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Kimley-Horn and the city of Norfolk have had a working relationship for years, and consulting engineers from Kimley-Horn have attended forum events to learn more about sea level rise issues.

“The forum has been a great opportunity to get people together to meet, share ideas, and coordinate strengths to better serve the area,” says Smith. “By taking a coordinated effort the region has been able to attract more money and grant opportunities.”

There have been nine Hampton Roads Adaptation Forum events since October 2013, and future events are anticipated.

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