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COMMENTARY: OUR VISION: SUCCESS AT HOME / A 'CLEAR' plan requires attention to detail on environmental challenges

FROM Charlottesville to Seattle, from New Hampshire to Texas and Florida, cities and regions around the nation have been preparing themselves to face the challenges created by extreme weather events. These include the kinds of storms and flooding that have battered the city of Fredericksburg and Stafford, Spotsylvania, King George, and Caroline counties in recent years. “Resilience” now describes a community’s readiness to deal with the effects of climate change on the availability of resources we take for granted, including clean water, electricity, agricultural production, and even the rich cultural sites in our region.

Businesses seeking to relocate or expand look for locations with favorable tax advantages, an educated workforce, an efficient transportation infrastructure—and, increasingly, resilience. They want to operate in forward-looking communities that are preparing for environmental challenges to both infrastructure and to features in the landscape that nurture a rich quality of life.

Because the University of Mary Washington believes that climate and environmental resilience build the economic health of our region, we are spearheading the creation of a Climate, Environment, and Readiness (CLEAR) plan. CLEAR supports the quality of life that brings people to our communities and keeps our children here. Its five goals are:

* To protect private property by creating and coordinating plans for floods and severe weather emergencies

* To preserve our resources and open spaces

* To identify sustainable activities that save money for homeowners, businesses, and local governments

* To enhance resilience through activities aimed at preventing crises

* To diversify our regional economy by attracting new businesses that build green jobs.

A CLEAR BLUEPRINT

On Nov. 13, beginning at 8 a.m. at UMW’s Jepson Alumni Executive Center, community leaders and concerned residents will come together to set preparedness goals, prioritize needs, and start coordinating plans for a CLEAR blueprint.

Our region has for many years seen strong forward momentum in preparing for the effects of climate and weather changes. Numerous organizations throughout Planning District 16 have had major impacts in protecting the resources we value. We have all benefited from the work of the Friends of the Rappahannock; the George Washington Regional Commission, including its Regional Green Infrastructure Plan; the Green Business Initiatives Advisory Committee of the Chamber of Commerce; Tree Fredericksburg; the Chesapeake Bay Foundation; the Departments of Public Works within our counties and the city; local governmental Economic Development agencies; the Battlefield Preservation Trust; our many local farmers markets; Goodwill Industries; and other less visible groups.

Fredericksburg’s Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw last spring committed to the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, which has more than 1,000 signatures. Of course, individual businesses, including major regional employers, already have in place emergency readiness plans from which we all can learn.

The Nov. 13 planning session will build on these initiatives. We will work to protect ourselves from the ravages of climate change and from acute disasters, such as violent hurricanes and derechos. These bring power outages, damage to our homes and businesses, and loss of agricultural productivity. If hit with a severe emergency like Katrina’s deluge of New Orleans, which isolated neighborhoods and choked transportation systems, our area does not have alternative plans for moving people, goods, and services. And the need for these plans is immediate: Large portions of the Northern Neck have shorelines at sea level making communities vulnerable to the effects of violent weather.

THE COST OF WASTE

There is much on which regional stakeholders already agree; these areas of consensus will form the groundwork for the CLEAR plan. If we all concur that government waste costs taxpayers money, then we also need to look at ways to reduce our expenses for heating, air conditioning, electricity, and public vehicle fleets. Additionally, these moves will cut emissions that build up and gradually damage the air we breathe and eventually, as weather patterns change, the green spaces we value. Planning and prevention will also reduce government spending on infrastructure repairs and damage to natural resources caused by sudden disasters.

Our region boasts numerous resources, and we need to maintain the health and beauty of the Rappahannock and other waterways as well as our farms and parks. Because of the abundant natural attractions and green spaces, this region has experienced tremendous population growth in the last generation. This boom has led to a transportation system that functions in a perpetual state of crisis and with even greater vulnerability should a climate disaster strike. Not surprisingly, we found from the CLEAR survey recently published in The Free Lance–Star that our region’s residents express their highest level of concern about this problem.

No recent regional project has gained wider praise than the new walking and biking trail that now rings Fredericksburg. Preliminary results from the CLEAR survey identify use of trails as the No. 1 activity of interest outside the home. Following closely behind are “visiting parks” and “visiting historical sites.” The conclusion: We must preserve green spaces and maintain the historic character of our region. Both efforts support the quality of life for our families and create economic advantages from tourism.

NATURAL PROTECTIONS

However, bear in mind that there are many other reasons for protecting our green spaces, trees, and waterways. When we degrade these resources, we remove from the environment natural protections against flooding and we lose defenses against rising temperatures.

Fredericksburg, Stafford, Spotsylvania, King George, and Caroline have a well-deserved pride in preserving historic legacies. They share in the beauty that distinguishes our region. Our infrastructure is strained. The environment of our area is at risk. But by working together to strengthen resilience we can grow our economy, sustain the values that have made us strong, and be optimistic about the future of our region.

Richard Finkelstein is dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and professor of English at the University of Mary Washington.  In his community service work he has led not-for-profit organizations that focus on children.

 

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