WILLIAMSBURG — A couple of thoughts about Hampton Roads keep Sen. Tim Kaine up at night – a memory of a briefing about hurricane evacuation after his election as governor, and a forecast that in another 25 years, Hampton Boulevard, the main road into Naval Station Norfolk, will be under water three hours a day.
Kaine told several hundred people at the College of William and Mary's coastal policy symposium Friday that the possibility that sailors might not be able to get to the base makes climate change and rising sea level a matter of urgent national security.
And concerns about security, as well as the question of how to move hundreds of thousands of Hampton Roads residents out of harm's way if a hurricane comes, mean climate change will be an issue on Capitol Hill, whether legislators call it that or not.
In fact, Congress is already dealing with climate change, though under other names, he said.
Legislation this year to delay a sharp rise in federal flood insurance premiums was really a climate policy bill, Kaine said – and it is one of three areas where Congress will be responding to rising sea levels in the years ahead.
Another is deciding which military bases expand, shrink or close — an issue Virginians need to watch closely.
"We nearly saw (Naval Air Station) Oceana close because of the encroachment of houses nearby," Kaine said. "Flooding and weather effects are the new encroachment, and (military planners) are going to be taking them into account."
Finally, there's the question of planning and paying for the nation's transportation needs – and Kaine wants to make sure Congress is thinking about how to move 1.6 million people out of Hampton Roads if a hurricane comes.
Kaine said he was shaken by a recent daylong exercise by Hampton Roads emergency planners, simulating a response to an imaginary Hurricane Elvis in 2044, when sea level is a foot and half higher.
"The potential impacts are frightening, they really are frightening," Kaine said.
Kaine said that exercise was an initiative of a new regional task force that took shape after a bipartisan meeting on sea level rise that the Hampton Roads congressional delegation sponsored earlier this year. The task force is becoming a model for federal agencies concerned with climate issues.
Out of that bipartisan meeting, meanwhile, have come an effort to secure funding for flood control measures in Hampton Roads and grants for work to make sure flooding doesn't shut down the area's highways, telecommunications and utilities.
And, while "people look at Virginia and say, 'Hey, Kaine, you guys get a lot already,'" Kaine said he believes there is growing awareness in non-coastal states that climate change will eventually affect them.
Ress can be reached by telephone at 757-247-4535.