Dear Virginia voter,
The Nov. 6 Virginia election ballot contains two statewide ballot initiatives. Question #1 asks: “Should a county, city, or town be authorized to provide a partial tax exemption for real property that is subject to recurrent flooding, if flooding resiliency improvements have been made on the property?”
The Northumberland Association for Progressive Stewardship (NAPSva.org) board of directors is urging Virginians to vote “no” on this question because it could create incentives that are unwise, unfair to citizens, and detrimental to the environment.
Firstly, it is fundamentally unwise for any incentives to be given for building or rebuilding on land with recurrent flooding, especially in a tidal region where relative sea levels are expected to continue rising*, It would be much wiser to expand incentives not to build or rebuild on this land, such as currently provided in Article X, Section 6 (a)(7) of the Constitution of Virginia: “Land subject to a perpetual easement permitting inundation by water as may be exempted (from taxation) in whole or in part by general law.”
Secondly, an ordinance that offers tax relief for the installation of riprap, bulkheads or other types of hardened shorelines would be unfair to owners of neighboring properties, particularly those who cannot afford to install their own flooding resiliency improvements. Not only will their taxes subsidize the neighbor’s improvements, their property will experience increased flooding and erosion from the inflow reflected by the protected neighboring property**.
Thirdly, where municipalities offer tax relief, waterfront developers would gain an additional incentive to purchase and build up low-lying "improved" properties, further exacerbating flooding of neighboring residents and working waterfronts. Due to hydric soils, heroic engineering solutions are required to protect such developments resulting in high maintenance costs and a drastic altering of the character of the landscape, according to Bryan D. Watts, Director, and Mitchell A. Byrd, Director Emeritus, of the Center for Conservation Biology in Williamsburg. In a letter opposing a proposed waterfront development in Northumberland County, they stated: “If we want to maintain the natural systems that form the basis of the Bay's appeal, we need to move away from siting this type of high impact development within sensitive habitats."
Finally, NAPS is very concerned with ecological damage caused by further hardening of the shoreline and inability for environmentally critical wetlands to absorb the additional inflows, even when done one lot at a time. According to the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), an estimated 1,700 miles of tidal shoreline in Maryland and Virginia have been hardened (about 18% of the total shoreline), with many miles added each year***. Hardened shorelines cause turbulence that scours sediment and deepens the water so it no longer supports underwater grasses or protects small-bodied fish and shellfish from larger predators. They also offer much less support for communities of water birds, according to VIMS. Marshes are the nurseries of the Chesapeake Bay, and the ecology and economy of Virginia’s tidal region relies on the Bay’s health and recovery.
We acknowledge the Virginia legislature’s good intentions to allow relief to property owners who will continue to suffer damage from increased flooding, and we recognize the effort taken to get this referendum on the ballot. However, we believe this amendment is not a wise, fair, or environmentally sound way to achieve that goal. Let’s all work together to support effective nature-based solutions to this ever-increasing challenge. However, on Nov. 6, please vote “No” on Virginia election ballot question #1.
The Board of Directors of the Northumberland Association for Progressive Stewardship, Heathsville, Virginia
Please share this with family, friends, and colleagues. This amendment has received little press or scrutiny and is certain to pass unless the word gets out. For convenience, use the social share tools below.
*USGS - https://chesapeake.usgs.gov/sciencesummary-sealevelrise.html
**FEMA - https://www.fema.gov/txt/about/regions/regionx/Engineering_With_Nature_Web.txt
***Chesapeake Bay Program - https://www.chesapeakebay.net/news/blog/by_the_numbers_1700
Comments? Please email your comments on this article to stewardship@NAPSva.org.
The VA ballot measure #1 for tax relief on mitigating effects of flooding is interesting. This is the first time I have heard of it. It came to me as a post on ASFPM FB page.
First, I understand your concerns about abuse of the program by developers and the hardening that many will try to do.
Second VA is in big trouble with the existing pre-flood map high flood risk buildings in flood zones. The NFIP is rapidly raising the premiums on all these buildings, see attached illustration. Virginia has tens of thousands of these buildings along the shore and its rivers. Many are our most historic and were built along the water as part of our history of development. In fact, I argue the Naval facilities in the Norfolk area are at risk mostly from this issue than from sea level rise in the next 20 years with over 14,000 of these buildings becoming virtually worthless once the flood insurance rates reach actuarial in 13 years.
Flood hazard mitigation elevation and dry flood proofing projects on these buildings reduce flood risk and rapidly rising flood insurance rates. They also stabilize property values and create good construction jobs. They allow the water to come and go but we don't have to rebuild people's homes and lives when it floods. Our flood mitigation industry wants states to create incentives for these not inexpensive projects so we can help the property owners get these buildings safe from flooding now. In two more generations at the shore, or sooner depending on the increased melt rates, our structural industry will be engaged in the relocation of tens of thousands of buildings inland.
Our nation has an estimated 3 million of these pre-flood map buildings in flood zones and we think it is a $1 Trillion fix to flood mitigate them. Many will attempt to finance the projects only to get slammed by the county assessor once the projects are done. This type of tax exemption for the retrofit of the pre-flood map buildings is the key to another go at this measure if it fails this go around and our flood mitigation industry would like to work with you and others to get that done. Please do not hesitate to contact me about this issue.
Roderick Scott, CFM
Flood Hazard Mitigation Specialist
L & R Resources, LLC
Thank you for your comment, and for the clear explanation of mitigation costs vs. benefits in relation to flood insurance rates. I truly would have hoped that the Virginia legislature had reached out to more experts so as to draft a better amendment that would have limited the mitigation methods to only the ones that are sustainable.
Raising a structure to mitigate flood damage seems like it can be an effective (though expensive) permanent solution in areas affected by swollen rivers or poor drainage; however, I am concerned about its practicality in areas already inundated by tidal flooding. We're concerned that as sea levels continue to rise, eventually these structures, though "high and dry," will be surrounded by submerged land and no longer useful – unless the surrounding land is raised or protected by hardscaping as well. I would very much welcome your thoughts on this.
Mike Ahart, president