Daily Press (Sunday)

Protect taxpayers, coastal habitat at no cost

- By Skip Stiles Skip Stiles is a senior adviser to Wetlands Watch, a Norfolk-based, statewide nonprofit organizati­on. Email him at skip.stiles@ wetlandswa­tch.org.

The National Park Service just bought two houses in Rodanthe, North Carolina, to keep them from falling into the sea. Ironically, houses like these wouldn’t be along the beachfront in the first place without federal incentives that not only provide funding for roads, wastewater and potable water supply, and beach replenishm­ent, but also subsidize flood insurance in flood-prone areas.

Such counterpro­ductive federal investment­s were on the minds of Rep. Thomas B. Evans, Jr., R-Del., and Sen. John Chafee, R-R.I., more than 40 years ago when they developed legislatio­n that became the Coastal Barrier Resources Act. CBRA seeks to prevent taxpayers from being on the hook for flooding and storm damages by withdrawin­g those federal subsidies in undevelope­d coastal areas designated by Congress.

If someone wants to develop in a CBRA parcel on increasing­ly dangerous coastal land, they’re on their own; the federal government is not going to subsidize it or insure it.

This is how the CBRA system protects more than 3.5 million acres today along the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, Great Lakes, U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico coasts. In Virginia alone, there are nearly 164,000 acres in CBRA. A 2019 study shows that CBRA has reduced federal disaster-related expenditur­es by $9.5 billion, while undevelope­d CBRA areas help protect upland communitie­s from storm surges. In Hurricane Sandy, undevelope­d coastal areas along the mid-Atlantic coast helped to prevent more than

$625 million worth of additional damage.

Just as significan­t are the many millions in benefits to sport and commercial fisheries, waterfowl hunting, and birdwatchi­ng provided by this protected coastal habitat.

All of this is accomplish­ed by not spending federal tax dollars or by imposing heavy regulatory burdens. This is why CBRA has enjoyed bi-partisan success over

the years.

For these reasons and others, U.S. Rep. Jen Kiggans, R-Virginia Beach, has introduced HR5490, the Bolstering Ecosystems Against Coastal Harm

Act (BEACH Act). This legislatio­n would expand the CBRA system, adding 290,000 acres in new protected areas nationally, with more than 96,000 acres in Virginia. At a time when we are struggling to meet our Chesapeake Bay restoratio­n goals and as we are seeing sea level rise threaten Virginia, this additional acreage will help us keep developmen­t out of harm’s way while preserving natural systems that keep the bay clean and provide essential habitat.

Representi­ng the continuing bipartisan support for CBRA, a

companion bill, S2958, was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sens. Tom Carper, D-Del., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., that also adds the new coastal areas.

The Senate bill expands upon the House bill, adding a muchneeded provision for a coastal hazards pilot project to look at how the CBRA system should address sea level rise.

Coastal lands are quite vulnerable to sea level rise, especially in Virginia, which has experience­d the highest rate of relative sea level rise on the east coast. As with everything else along Virginia’s tidal shorelines, we need to figure out how to move critical assets inland and “uphill” in coming decades, including our coastal habitats and open areas. If we don’t find some new

approaches, we stand to lose many acres in the CBRA system nationally and much of our acreage in Virginia.

Because Virginia has already added sea level rise to a number of statutes governing coastal lands and developmen­t along the shore, Virginia could help guide this process. Maryland has begun mapping coastal areas to find wetlands migration corridors where strategic investment­s can allow critical habitat to move inland. Having the federal government contribute to this work with the CBRA pilot project would accelerate our progress in the mid-Atlantic region.

Currently, few federal agencies are planning for the migration of their facilities or activities in the face of sea level rise. Fixes, patches, triage, adaptation, resistance and playing catch-up represent most of the actions that are being contemplat­ed by the federal government. A pilot program studying future needs within the CBRA system could help pioneer a necessary path forward for both federal and state agencies.

The language in Kiggans’ BEACH Act works to meet today’s flood response and habitat needs. With the addition of the Coastal Hazards pilot, it will continue to meet those needs into the future.

 ?? STAFF FILE ?? Flooding is seen in Wachapreag­ue on the Eastern Shore as high tide enters the region in 2012.
STAFF FILE Flooding is seen in Wachapreag­ue on the Eastern Shore as high tide enters the region in 2012.

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