At the Mouth of the Bay, a City Seeks Resilience | WYPR

At the Mouth of the Bay, a City Seeks Resilience

Mar 11, 2019

Mary and Robert Mack mark where they live on a map of Hampton, Va. during a community meeting.
Credit Pamela D'Angelo

Newmarket Creek flows from Newport News, Va., through nearby Hampton where nuisance flooding caused by rising tides and sinking lands has created problems for more than one homeowner.

Since 2008, the city of Hampton has been looking at ways to live with water. City officials recently brought experts together for a week-long workshop and a community meeting at the Hampton Coliseum to look at innovative ways individuals, neighborhoods and the city can manage flood risk during storms and adapt to become more resilient to rising waters and sinking lands.

Terry O’Neill, who leads the Resilient Hampton initiative, says the city is targeting neighborhoods along Newmarket Creek for its first flood resilience pilot project.

“The creek itself runs through and touches many, many different neighborhoods, so it's not just a one neighborhood approach,” he explains. “It runs through some commercial areas, so it's a very complex system and while very, very challenging, if we can come up with strategies that work it will put us in a good place to apply those throughout the community.

The city also brought in consultants from New Orleans and the Netherlands, places with plenty of experience with flooding. They pointed out places where roads might be raised, and where storm water might be stored and released later.

The Roads in Hampton Roads refers to the deep water channel and to the land around it, which nowadays is covered with miles of roads and parking lots. Dutch landscape architect and urban planner, Steven Slabbers told the city this is a big problem.

“We don't have those huge, huge, huge parking greens with only asphalt where no water can get through, that's ridiculous,” he said.

He says he noticed other creeks throughout Hampton, hidden in back yards and behind businesses, where people can’t see, use or care for them. He's recommending public pathways next to the creeks as a way to connect people with the water around them.

“Hampton is a city of creeks,” he said. “So much water.’

The question, he says, is “how can we make that water more visible and enjoyable. And how can we make people live with the water, facing the water, instead of turning their back to the water.”

As lands subside, storm drainage has become another problem. Catherine and Isiah Roberts have lived next to the creek since 1972. They say it floods into their yard during nor'easters. And debris flows down the creek from neighboring communities.

“We're right down from Newport News,” says Catherine Roberts. “So they clean out their stuff and improve their drainage system and we get the rest of the stuff. A couple of the neighbors, we try to keep it cut down on the back so it’s not so much trash there, but still, we flood."

Isiah Roberts is a bit optimistic about some of the city’s proposals, but, still, he has his doubts.

“I've been talking for 40 years, for 40 years and I haven't seen anything did to that creek to help that water,” he said. “Some of them parking lots could go away and the water would have somewhere to go. Because any parking lots, any building that you build and you put a parking lot that holds 600 or 700 cars, that's a basin.”

But that doesn’t mean he won’t keep coming to these meetings.

“Oh, yeah,” he said, laughing. “I'll be at the next meeting and the next meeting and the next meeting.”

Hampton has plans to begin work this fall on smaller projects, like rain gardens and planting trees. For larger projects, the city is looking to raise money through private investors with environmental impact bonds. We'll be looking at that in another segment of this series.