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By Lise Alves, Contributing Reporter

MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA – Sea level rise has become a central issue for the Virginia House of Delegates. Political newcomer, Gayle Johnson, says she wants to represent the state’s 82nd District of Virginia Beach because current elected officials are ignoring data on climate change and sea level rise (SLR).

Sea Level Rise Defined as Central Issue in Virginia Beach Political Campaign, Miami Beach, Miami, Florida, News
As flooding like this Virginia Beach home experienced after Hurricane Irene is becoming increasingly common, politicians are reacting, photo Southern Environmental Law Center/Roberto Westbrook.

“We have a climate crisis on our hands … I just couldn’t stand by and watch nothing be done,” Johnson was quoted as saying by local newspaper, The Virginia Pilot.

If elected, her priorities will include lowering carbon emissions and finding ways to ease the negative effects of flooding in the region.

According to Johnson, running on a Democratic ticket, Virginia needs to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. She also supports offering tax incentives for those who drive electric automobiles and residents who put in solar panels to reduce the use of electricity.

“We need to take action now to make sure we preserve our vibrant costal community for the next generation of Virginians,” Johnson says on her campaign website.

Although during his two terms in office, Republican incumbent Jason Miyares focused on firearms regulation, the 43-year-old politician said recently that flooding is a ‘hugely important issue’ for the region.

He has proposed legislation that would allow the state to work directly with the Army Corps of Engineers on large flooding mitigation projects. According to Miyares, the proposal has been shelved in the past, but he says he will introduce it again if re-elected.

According to Virginia’s government, the rate of SLR in the Hampton Roads region, is at the top ten percent in the United States. Long-term records of water levels in southeast Virginia have relative sea level rise trends that are almost twice that of the global average.

Flooding around Virginia Beach is common especially when there are hurricanes like Isabel, Miami Beach, Miami, Florida, News
Flooding around Virginia Beach is common, especially when there are hurricanes, like Isabel, photo by Sgt Ben Bloker/US Air Force.

The Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences (VIMS) reviewed SLR projections from federal agencies to establish plans for the area in regards to combating recurrent flooding.

The VIMS report recommended that officials plan for a scenario of 1.5 feet rise in sea level in the region over the next 20 to 50 years, but notes that SLR may possibly reach three feet by 2070. The recommendations are being used in the City’s analysis.  ​

“The science indicates that Virginia Beach should plan for at least seven feet of relative sea level rise by the end of the century — and recognize that sea level rise won’t stop there,” argued retired program manager of NOAA’s Climate Program Office and a current member of the Sierra Club, Virginia Chapter, Christopher Miller earlier this year.

“Planning for less may seem easier and cheaper, but the cost of selecting an unrealistically low number will be greater in the long run,” said Miller.

According to officials rising oceans around Virginia Beach have been occurring for at least five decades. Data shows that sea level has increased in the area by almost one foot since the 1960s.​
 
Since 2015, Virginia Beach City Council has obtained approximately US$3 million in funding to identify the potential impacts of SLR and develop a comprehensive long-term response plan.  

The city has also received a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) the Regional Coastal Resiliency Grant worth US$844,000, to be used to further the city’s efforts to mitigate the negative effects of SLR.

With SLR and climate change awareness increasing in the area, candidate Johnson hope her ideas on the subject will garner enough support for her to be the area’s representative in the next legislative term.

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