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Hampton takes holistic approach to flood resilience

A Hampton resident examines project maps hanging on a wall.
A Hampton resident looks at project maps presented by city officials at a Resilient Hampton community presentation on May 18. The project aims to empower residents to “live and thrive” with the impact of water and climate change. (Photo: Katherine Hafner/WHRO)

Katherine Hafner/WHRO

Back in 2015, Hampton city officials went to a regional flooding workshop that included experts from New Orleans and the Netherlands.

They were there to trade tips and tricks about urban water management. In other words, living with water.

The five-day Dutch Dialogues Virginia event changed the city’s perspective on the topic, said Carolyn Heaps, now Hampton’s resilience officer.

“We really took away from that, I think, different ideas for living with water principles,” she said.

That means “focusing on working with our water systems or the natural landscapes that water exists around us. Rather than trying to fight it and engineer the water away, trying to find opportunities to embrace water as an asset and use it for recreational benefits, overall well-being, quality of life and really human health.”

Hampton decided to commit to a more holistic approach on flood resilience, and adopted a framework called Living with Water.

A few years later, the city came up with a more specific initiative,  Resilient Hampton. It’s the Hampton’s yearslong mission to empower residents to “live and thrive” with the impact of water and climate change.

"Resilience" is a term that means something different to everyone — even within Hampton Roads or within a particular agency. The city of Hampton defines it as “the bolstering of a community's inherent strengths in order to alleviate chronic stresses and enable recovery from extreme events and shocks in ways that make the community even stronger than before.”

Resilience strategies

Heaps said officials are trying to tailor resilience strategies to specific areas, rather than take blanket citywide actions.

“We aren’t looking at traditional political boundaries and strict neighborhoods,” she said. “We’re looking at watersheds and the landscapes as the primary focus.”

That started by focusing on the Newmarket Creek watershed. The city developed three pilot projects that will soon begin construction, including one called the Big Bethel Blueway, which aims to transform an existing drainage canal into stormwater storage and public green space.

Others will raise and place greenery along North Armistead Avenue, and turn a detention pond into a stormwater park.

Together the three are expected to add more than 8.6 million gallons of stormwater storage capacity that would otherwise contribute to flooding and polluted runoff,  WHRO reported.

Officials are also using a relatively new funding mechanism called an "environmental impact bond." The city — the first in the region to use such a bond – borrowed $12 million from private investors who are interested in funding environmental and climate solutions.

The impact bond will require the city to provide data on how its measures are working, Heaps said.

Resilient Hampton’s turning to its second watershed: downtown, Phoebus and Buckroe.

City officials recently held a three-day workshop working with stakeholders, such as community members, engineers, marine scientists and consultants to start brainstorming potential actions.

At a community presentation at Jones Magnet Middle School, Heaps said they’d gotten lots of feedback on the uniqueness of each of the three areas.

“We heard a lot about pride of place,” she said.

Members of those communities also brought up issues like gentrification, emergency access, loss of trees and the desire for more sustainable local businesses.

The city plans to consider not just typical water management projects, Heaps said, but also those that improve residents’ lives.

That could mean creating a new water taxi, installing solar-powered charging areas that also provide shade or connecting Phoebus directly with a bike and walking path to Fort Monroe.

Hampton has already received about $160,000 for the planned resilience work in downtown, Buckroe and Phoebus through the state’s Community Flood Preparedness Fund, which redirects a portion of the money Virginia receives through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

The city’s also been studying possible resilience actions for the LaSalle Avenue corridor that leads to Langley Air Force Base.

In a  joint report with military officials, the city found the crucial access point is at high risk for inundation from sea level rise and requires mitigation measures, such as new flood gates, pump stations and replacing bridges.

People can learn more about the latest watershed plans and submit comments  on the city’s website or by emailing  [email protected] and calling (757) 727-6140.

Read the original story at WHRO.