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Sea level rise will have wide-ranging impact

Updated: September 20, 2013 - 1:24 pm

Posted: September 20, 2013

By Jared Council

Since assuming the helm at the Virginia Environmental Endowment in May, Joseph Maroon said he's become quite familiar with the phrase "collective impact."

The term denotes that partners can accomplish more as a unit than they can individually, Maroon said at a recent conference, and he told those listening that such a unified effort is necessary to combat the issues related to sea level rise and climate change.

"Fragmented efforts are unlikely to have the impact necessary to adequately protect our coastlands, coastal infrastructure and public safety," Maroon said. "This is what is needed: a collective effort of local partners, state and local governments, businesses, nonprofits, universities, the military, media, funders and many others that together can lead to a collective impact."

Maroon was joined by more than 15 other speakers and more than 200 attendees at the Virginia Coastal Policy Clinic's Sept. 13 conference, its first ever.

Launched in January, the College of William and Mary law school clinic aims to research legal and policy issues surrounding sea level rise and serve as a resource for citizens and public office holders.

The Virginia Environmental Endowment granted VCPC $77,500 in seed money last fall.

The slate of speakers at the full-day conference included lawyers, business leaders, state legislators and more. Three Hampton Roads mayors - Hampton's Molly Ward, Virginia Beach's Will Sessoms and Norfolk's Paul Fraim - gave remarks, too.

Maroon emphasized Virginia's potential leadership role, telling listeners that although no one knows what to expect, local and state leaders should be proactive.

"What we should not do is stand still," he said, "as our decisions will become harder and our options fewer."

Virginia is a Dillon Rule state, meaning that municipalities' authorities are limited to those expressly granted by the state. That underscores the need for state leaders to be involved in the conversation, Maroon said, adding that "the authority to act needs to be clear and needs to keep pace with the changing times."

Maroon said risks from projected environmental changes undoubtedly vary across the state, but the outcome of any local response could reverberate across the commonwealth.

"So everyone's interest is served by helping communities that are in the crosshairs," he said.

He reminded listeners that the issues of sea level rise and climate change are poised to have wide-ranging impacts.

"It's a public safety issue," he said, "a private-property issue, an economic issue, an infrastructure issue, a military-preparedness issue, an energy efficiency issue, a tourism issue, a housing issue, an insurance issue, as well as being a natural-, cultural- and historic-resource issue."

Maroon said states like New Jersey and New York, where communities are reeling from Hurricane Sandy, are already acting. Action in the commonwealth should be to its benefit.

"From safeguarding human life to protecting private property to improving water quality and protecting wetlands and critical habitat," he said, "Virginia has much to gain from developing a coordinated, adaptive management strategy in conjunction with localities and other stakeholders that protects our coastal areas." nib