- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 6, 2016

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Virginia lawmakers on Wednesday discussed possible ways to address the growing threat of sea level rise in the state’s coastal areas, although any major projects are still far off.

At its first meeting of the year, the two-year-old Joint Subcommittee on Coastal Flooding remained focused mainly on the possibilities of what can or should be done. Virginia faces the highest rate of sea-level rise on the Atlantic Coast, particularly in its southeast region. And some studies have said the ocean could swell by up to 7 feet by century’s end.

Committee members heard from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about navigating the cumbersome, 17-step process of getting federal approval to study certain flood-prone areas. Potential regions include the Virginia Peninsula, which includes the cities of Newport News as well as the state’s Eastern Shore. Respective cities would sponsor the studies.

Lawmakers also heard from Christine Morris, Norfolk’s chief resilience officer, who focuses on flood-reduction efforts in that city. She detailed smaller projects moving forward, including $100 million in federal money it received to improve a flood-prone area in the city.

Norfolk also has been studying maps from the late 1700s and early 1800s that point to where fill was used in creeks, sometimes poorly, to build up the city’s land mass, Morris said. As it happens, those areas often flood today.

Another realization was the need to sometimes disconnect storm water systems from rivers, which often surge during storms and cause backups.

“It’s not one big answer,” she told the committee. “It’s not a wall around the city. It’s not one big infrastructure program.”

Morris added that southeastern Virginia should try to attract businesses seeking to innovate when it comes to finding ways for cities and states to live with sea-level rise.

After the hearing, Virginia Del. Chris Stolle, a Republican, said the committee has made a lot of progress toward zeroing in what needs to be done.

“We’re trying to figure out what we can fix before the next big storm,” he said.

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