Norfolk Shoreline Casino Approved with No Resilience Features

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When Norfolk, Virginia, passed a novel resilience zoning ordinance last year, Wetlands Watch was enthusiastic. After over three years of work and over a decade of study, Norfolk was showing shoreline communities across the country what they need to do to combat sea level rise and flooding.

When Norfolk faced its first test with a proposal to develop a shoreline casino, it forgot all about its resilience ordinance. It flunked its first test as soon as a developer, in this case the Pamunkey Tribe, started talking about money.

In addition to forgetting all about the City’s resilience ordinance and making no reference to a recently completed US Army Corps of Engineers storm surge protection study, Norfolk forgot that it had a environmentally-focused development plan on the shelf. The city just finished a $200,000 brownfields study done on this site, funded by the Environmental Protection Agency. That study, “Norfolk Thrives” laid out a resilience plan for the development of this site. In fact, the development anticipated was a casino and hotel, exactly the project proposed by the developers. Yet none of the features of the EPA study were included in the approved development plan.

By a 7-1 vote the City Council allowed the project to proceed. Wetlands Watch protested the move, citing the lack of environmental and resilience protections.

If this can happen in a City that claims the crown on resilience, it can happen anywhere. This shows the need to support local/regional groups working to keep the process on track and calling out mistakes, even among our friends (and Norfolk is still a partner of ours).

So much attention on sea level rise adaptation work is focused on national groups who deliver a study and are long gone when the real decisions are made. Their work is necessary but is not sufficient to assure coastal adaptation. Only partnerships with local groups, watershed groups, and community based organizations will carry the day.