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New updates for Virginia's approach to the coast go into effect

Oyster Harvesting Chesapeake Bay Coast Rappahannock River
Steve Helber
/
AP
An oyster boat heads to the oyster grounds before sunrise to work a small section of the Rappahannock River near White Stone.

Several bills changing Virginia’s approach to it's coastline and oceans went into effect on July 1st, covering climate change, coastal flooding, and the shellfish industry.  

Last year former Governor Ralph Northam’s office released Virginia’s master plan for coastal resilience, outlining how Virginia could prepare for and mitigate effects of climate change. But there were some conflicting laws on who was responsible for it. 

“Professionally I come from a planning background and nothing more tragic to me than a really good plan that sits on a shelf and gathers dust,” said Delegate David Bulova, a Democrat representing parts of Fairfax County. His bill to more clearly define a "Chief Resilience Officer," or CRO passed this session. 

“We really wanted to make sure that there was accountability, and that if we were going to invest in these plans, that they were living documents.”

This administrative cleanup will make sure that accountability is written into state law, he said, removing some legal ambiguity since some laws had the CRO under the Secretary of Public Safety.

“Your Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources really needs to be the quarterback for these efforts,” said Jay Ford, the Virginia Policy Advisor for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. He said it's important to have water quality be a part of the CRO’s thinking and that resilience response can help meet goals to clean up the bay. 

“If we are helping expand critical ecosystems that are great for water quality, they also happen to be really cost effective ways to mitigate increases in floods along the coast.”

Oysters and clams help with bay clean-up, and Virginia is a top producer of oysters and clams in the US. This month a change in law went into effect that guaranteed a right to propagate shellfish in the Chesapeake Bay under leases.

“It's one of the most cost effective and delicious ways to get your waters cleaned up. What that really is doing is putting down a marker that the Virginia code is making a strong statement that the best thing we could be doing is helping to grow these shellfish populations,” Ford said. 

Other bills going into effect this month extended the season for taking oysters, and directed the Secretary of Labor to designate a seafood liaison. 

The Coastal Resilience Master Plan also suggested establishing a loan fund for localities to utilize for resilience projects. Legislators created that fund this session too.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Jahd Khalil is a reporter and producer in Richmond.