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July 3, 2014

Kaine, Reps, Local Mayors Lead Sea Level Rise Panel Discussion at ODU

Regional Conference on Sea Level RiseSen. Tim Kaine, Reps. Scott Rigell, Bobby Scott and Rob Wittman, and Mayors Paul Fraim and Will Sessoms at the "Rising to the Challenge" panel.

At one table in Old Dominion University's Ted Constant Convocation Center sat a U.S. senator, three U.S. representatives and mayors of the region's two largest cities. Three Democrats. Three Republicans.

At another table across the room sat two panels of experts on the issue of sea level rise, and how it will affect Hampton Roads and other coastal areas. They represented government, the military, nonprofits and academia.

The unique, bipartisan forum "Rising to the Challenge" was hosted Monday, June 30, by U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine. He was joined by U.S. Representatives Scott Rigell, Bobby Scott and Rob Wittman, all from eastern Virginia, as well as Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim, and Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms.

"Citizens want us to do something. Our challenge is to figure out how to work together," Kaine said, in his welcoming remarks to the crowd of more than 400 in the Constant Center's Big Blue Room.

At the three-hour event, the elected officials led a discussion, asking questions of expert panelists, including Rear Adm. Jonathan White, Oceanographer of the Navy; Rear Adm. Kevin Slates, Dir. Chief of Naval Operations, Energy and Environmental Readiness; Gregory Steele, chief of planning and policy with the Norfolk Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Skip Stiles, executive director of Wetlands Watch; and James Redick, director of the city of Norfolk's Division of Emergency Management.

The second panel included two representatives from ODU - Retired Capt. Ray Toll, the school's Navy/NOAA liaison; and retired Vice Adm. David Architzel, the school's director of military affairs. Toll has been tasked with leading a national pilot program looking at sea level rise mitgation and recovery here in Hampton Roads.

Rigell said it is not a surprise that this groundbreaking event was hosted by ODU. "It's clear that ODU is uniquely qualified to deal with the issue" of sea level rise, he said.

To see an archived webstream of the forum, see: http://dl.odu.edu/bin/regional_conference/#

ODU has been a hub of research and outreach in the area of sea level rise for decades. The university tapped into expertise in each of its six colleges four years ago when President John R. Broderick launched the university's Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Initiative (CCSLRI).

In welcoming attendees to Old Dominion University, Broderick said ODU takes very seriously its role to facilitate a coordinated response to the challenge of rising sea levels.

"Our commitment to finding solutions to the challenge of sea level rise is demonstrated not only by our institutes and national pilot program, but also by our education of the next generation of scientists and engineers who will identify the region's needs and promote action," he said.

Speakers at the even voiced concerns as straightforward as how thousands of sailors and civilians at the Norfolk Naval Base can get to and from work as rising water threatens Hampton Boulevard. That's why the gathering at ODU, which is located on Hampton Boulevard, was so apt, Fraim said.

"I don't remember a collection of elected officials in one place like this," Fraim added, complimenting the bipartisan thrust of the event.

Scott said the threat of rising sea levels to local military installations poses a threat to the region, but that potential problems extend far beyond military branches. Wittman said for solutions to be found to the difficult issue, sometimes it's important that the federal government "get out of the way."

Different levels of government do need to take this issue seriously, Sessoms added, as river basins such as the Lynnhaven and Lafayette are among the most threatened by rising sea levels. "We need support, and it needs to come from everywhere," Sessoms said.

Earlier this month, ODU hosted "TechSurge - Technical Support for Coastal Resiliency," a first-of-its-kind conference that brought more than 250 planners from all levels of government and industry to begin work to create a comprehensive local response to increased flooding from rising sea levels that can serve as a template for coastal planners around the nation. ODU's Toll will lead this initiative.

At TechSurge, Broderick announced the creation of ODU's new Mitigation and Adaptation Research Institute (MARI), which has evolved from CCSLRI. MARI is designed to be a think tank to develop and support coastal resiliency strategies.