By Peter Coutu
May 8, 2019 Updated May 11, 2019
Council members got a glimpse Tuesday of what Virginia’s largest city might look like if it sinks billions of dollars into preparing for 3 feet of sea level rise in the coming decades.
The face of some of Virginia Beach’s most iconic locations, like the Lynnhaven Inlet and the Oceanfront, could see dramatic changes that feature high-tech flood gates, expanded seawalls and levee systems. Those are some of the options to safeguard vulnerable communities from frequent inundation, according to a presentation from the city’s highly anticipated study on sea level rise.
The six current citywide infrastructure plans to combat future flooding would cost Virginia Beach anywhere from $1.13 billion to nearly $3 billion and protect 28,000 to 45,000 homes.
“This is probably the biggest threat that faces our city. We really need to take this seriously,” City Councilwoman Rosemary Wilson said at a meeting Tuesday night. “These are huge, huge numbers. It’s very frightening.”
The city is still months away from deciding how to move forward.
Any combination of solutions — which would likely include site-specific plans like raising the foundation of houses — will bring a hefty price tag. But doing nothing would cost much more, said Charles J. Bodnar, a civil engineer with the city’s stormwater management center.
If no steps are taken to combat 3 feet of sea level rise, annual losses could total $329 million, according to the city’s updated analysis. One of the most comprehensive plans would reduce the possible damages by nearly $300 million a year, according to the analysis.
In 2015, the city hired Dewberry, an engineering consulting firm, to conduct the $3.8 million study, which is now nearing completion. The firm uses two sea level rise estimates — 1½ feet for 2035 to 2055 and 3 feet for 2065 to 2085.
Out of the six options, the most detailed citywide infrastructure plan would include nine different components stretching from the Lynnhaven Inlet to Muddy Creek Road in southern Virginia Beach. The fixes would cover about 34 miles, protect roughly 43,000 homes, require help from neighboring municipalities and cost the city nearly $3 billion.
To fund these solutions, Virginia Beach will be looking in the future for state and federal help as well as gradual tax increases, City Manager Dave Hansen said at the meeting.
In addition to infrastructure, the city’s plans could include nature-based solutions, elevating existing homes and starting a voluntary acquisition program for frequently flooded homes. More specific proposals for those will be released in the coming months.
Council members Barbara Henley and Aaron Rouse said they wanted to move forward quickly with the less-expensive solutions.
Here’s an interactive look at six major infrastructure pieces the City Council will have to consider:
Along the beaches near the Lynnhaven Inlet, there would be sand dunes with sheet pile reinforcement on the east side of the Lesner Bridge. A pump station could be built near the public boat launch on the west side. A flood wall would connect to in-water gates that could be removed in the non-navigable parts of the inlet.
A gate in the middle of the inlet would continue to allow ship traffic to move forward.
Not much would change in the city’s resort area where tourism continues to help drive the local economy. A plan proposes extending the seawall on the Boardwalk further south, with sliding floodgates in front of entrances to public beaches.
Closing the gates would allow the resort area to minimize flooding during high-water events.
On the south side of the Rudee Inlet, there would be a sand dune with sheet pile reinforcement and another pump station.
High-tech flood gates that could open and close would also be used in this project. The protections would connect to the flooding fixes up at the Oceanfront.
Southern Virginia Beach
In contrast to the more densely populated northern sections of the city, southern Virginia Beach faces very different flooding conditions. High-water events have been driven by wind tides in recent years when southerly gusts push up water from the Currituck Sound in North Carolina.
In Pungo, much of Muddy Creek Road, which runs parallel to Back Bay, is often inundated. Last year, residents reported facing significant water damage in homes during three major flooding events.
The city’s plan would require raising miles of the road and introducing a gate levee and miter gate that would block water flowing from the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. These same plans could be put in several different places in the southern portion of the city, Bodnar said.
To protect Sandbridge, a 5-mile-long, six-block-wide coastal community, the city has proposed a variety of fixes on the western side, opposite of the Atlantic Ocean.
There would be two miter gates and several circular gates, which could still be opened to allow residents access to Back Bay. A seawall would also be built a little bit into the water to ensure it doesn’t topple over during a storm.
West Neck Creek
West Neck Road would have to be raised to create a levee, and miter gates would need to be installed to allow the passage of water during normal situations. And there would be a gate house and pump station to move water ahead of major events.
All renderings are courtesy of Virginia Beach.
WPL completed all Renderings for the Dewberry Study – Virginia Beach Seal Level Rise