Possible global outcomes for sea-level rise, projected to 2100 (top); low-lying land in the U.S., with areas most affected by sea level rise (bottom). Graphic: National Journal

By Coral Davenport
7 February 2013

NORFOLK, Virginia (National Journal) – Jimmy Strickland can tell you exactly how much money rising sea levels have cost his business. In 1989, he opened his accounting firm in a one-story brick building near Norfolk’s historic cobblestoned Hague district, which surrounds one of this low-lying city’s many tidal rivers.

Dressed in pinstripes and a large, gold class ring, the white-haired Strickland is a consummate Southern gentleman—and also a consummate small-business owner. In his soft coastal accent, he tells the story of how the rising tides of Norfolk have eroded his bottom line. “I was here for 14 years, and nothing happened. We had no idea this area flooded. It had never happened before,” Strickland says. “Then, over the past 10 years, we had three big ones.” In 2003, Hurricane Isobel drove a foot-high surge of seawater into his office, drenching the foundation and walls. On Veterans Day 2009, a nor’easter brought a repeat. Last October, while most of Virginia escaped the wrath of superstorm Sandy as it barreled up the coast toward New York, the tidal waters in Norfolk rose and soaked through his cinder-block foundation. Strickland and his wife spent 36 hours in the office, vacuuming the moisture as it seeped through the floor. Now, whenever a storm is forecast, the boss and his staff come in to prep two days before it is due. That means moving furniture and files, as well as wrapping the photocopiers and fax machines in plastic. It means hours of setting up the $12,000 “door-dam” system that Strickland bought online—an assembly of metal panels and pegs that can hold floodwaters from the building for a few tide cycles.

“I could be billing $150 an hour for my workers,” he says. “Instead, this is what we’re doing. And then it’s another two days or more after the storm to put it all back.”

Afterward comes the long wrangling with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has paid out about $250,000 each time to repair Strickland’s damaged building, replace his furniture, and truck in an arsenal of fans and dehumidifiers to dry everything out.

Strickland wants a more permanent solution. He has thought about selling the building, but he’s worried that after being hit by three floods in 10 years, he’ll have a hard time finding a buyer. Instead, he’s looking into elevating the structure on stilts. Local contractors have bid the job at $1.5 million to $2 million. He’d like to use the post-Sandy $250,000 from FEMA to help offset the cost, but the federal government pays for cleanup only, not prevention.

“At some point, you’d think they’d say, ‘Enough is enough. Let’s pay for a permanent solution.’ But either way, somebody’s paying,” he says.

And Strickland fully expects someone, whether it’s him or taxpayers, to pay more in the future, as sea levels climb higher. “In the last couple of years, we’ve seen more and more evidence of the waters rising,” the accountant says. “I’m just a small businessman. I’m looking at my building, on the impact of this on me and my employees; but other people are going to start thinking, am I going to want to relocate my business here?”

It’s a question being asked all across the region, as a series of scientific reports have singled out Norfolk as one of the nation’s cities most vulnerable to flooding and economic devastation as a result of sea-level rise—second only to New Orleans. The reason: rapidly rising sea levels due to climate change. [more]

The Scary Truth About How Much Climate Change is Costing You


  1. Sarah Park said...

    Climate change is apparently affecting everyone in the world in all aspects of life. But it is actually never too late to make a move in taking care of our environment.  


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