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Fairfax County releases draft plan to address costly climate change effects

Vehicle surrounded by water in a flooded roadway (via Fairfax County)

Fairfax County has a plan to help address the local effects of climate change, which already contributes to storms and other challenges that have caused tens of millions of dollars in damage.

The draft Climate Adaptation and Resilience Plan for Resilient Fairfax is now open for public comment through June 15. The county’s Board of Supervisors could approve it in September or October this year.

“In the coming months, we will also develop carryover funding proposals to ensure that any urgently needed resilience action is taken in a timely manner,” said Allison Homer, a planner with the county’s Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination, at the board’s environmental committee meeting today (Tuesday).

The plan proposes short- and long-term solutions that could potentially cost up to $9.5 million. They include launching a climate resilience education program, implementing a flood-risk reduction plan, exploring possible retroactive physical capital improvement projects for communities, and more.

In addition to these step-by-step solutions, other goals call for protecting natural resources and restoring urbanized environments. For example, the county notes it could further encourage buildings to add vegetation to roofs and pursue other strategies.

“Resilience planning is critical because we are already experiencing these hazards through temperature changes, stronger storms, and increased flooding, among other hazards,” the draft report says. “These climate impacts are projected to increase in both intensity and frequency, impacting our neighborhoods, businesses, infrastructure, public services, the local economy, cultural resources, and natural environments.”

Per the report, four severe weather events from 2010 through 2019 produced more than $25 million in damages:

  • The North American Blizzard (2010) resulted in a $2 million loss
  • Tropical Storm Lee (2011) cost the county $10 million in repairs to bridges and roads
  • Hurricane Sandy (2012) cost the county more than $1.5 million
  • July 2019 raining and flooding cost $14.8 million, including $2 million in damages to Fairfax County government property

“Even if all greenhouse gas emissions were eliminated globally today, the county would still continue to see some level of climate change in the future due to the level of global gases already emitted,” the report says. “Therefore, in all future scenarios, it is important to become resilient to climate change effects.”

Among its solutions, the draft plan recommends creating a climate fund with $100,000 to $500,000 for county-led climate projects, leveraging the money as a local match for state, federal and other grants.

It also proposes county incentives and assistance programs that reduce heat-related climate risk. That could involve updating development design guidelines and providing direction on building materials and other ways to cool properties.

Work on the Resilient Fairfax plan began in February 2021, and county staff have collaborated with regional authorities, state and federal agencies, utilities, developers, and representatives from environmental, religious, nonprofit, civil rights and residential as well as business groups.

“I think we are doing the right thing, which is to anticipate where things might go,” said Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck, who chairs the environmental committee.

As part of the process, the county conducted a survey of community members’ climate-related concerns in November, drawing over 600 responses.

An audit found the county is undertaking several initiatives already, but the report said those efforts can be strengthened.

In addition to written comments, another public meeting will take place at 6:30 p.m. May 24 virtually for people to provide feedback.

Photo via Fairfax County

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