A few days ago I had a casual conversation about the weather with someone I had just met. We talked about big storms and I mentioned how terrible the devastation would have been if Hurricane Sandy had crashed into the Northern Neck. He replied, “Well, there is not much around here that is worth much anyway.” This comment has me wondering how people develop perceptions of value about a place and how these perceptions ultimately make their way into public policy.
The Northern Neck is a region rich in heritage and in the natural resources that support our farming and seafood industries. Recreational activities such as boating, hunting, and fishing are also highly valued by residents and visitors to the area. To assume that the natural resources that support these activities will always be here for us to enjoy is not realistic and is naive. There are forces of nature already at work that are chipping away at our shorelines, washing away soil, and damaging the valuable wetland ecosystems that sustain the seafood industry and provide shelter for migrating waterfowl.
My father, who fought his way across the Pacific during World War II, once told a story about an assault on an enemy position. Hunkered down in a foxhole, his commanding officer shouted at him “Captain, I don’t care where we are on this map, where are we on the ground?” If you want to know where we are on the ground right here and right now on the Northern Neck, walk to the beach at Hughlett Point Natural Area Preserve and take a good long look at the dead trees in the water. Not so long ago, those trees were on land. And then, ask yourself what happened to all those little islands that used to be out there, but have now disappeared into the sea.
Sadly, “not worth much anyway” may imply the perception that the monetary value of property is the determining factor when evaluating the benefits of infrastructure investment to protect rural coastal areas from the impact of sea level rise. On the other hand, perhaps “not worth much anyway”, is simply a statement from someone who accepts the fact that sea level rise will take it all and no one can stop it. So why even bother?
Whatever your opinion on the cause or extent of climate change or sea level rise, the bottom line is that the water is coming up. In this new era of diminishing environmental protection, it will be the responsibility of local communities to set the course for achievable and fiscally sound public policy to specifically address the economic costs associated with sea level rise. It is time to end the arguments and begin working together to protect what we know is Something of Value.
The Wetlands Project is a Virginia 501c3 non-profit corporation and our mission is to create and strengthen programs that create long-term environmental and economic value for protecting fragile wetland eco-systems.
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