Sea Level Initiative Inked

OCEAN CITY — Gov. Martin O’Malley late last week signed a landmark executive order aimed at increasing the state’s long-term resiliency to storm-related flooding and sea level rise along the Atlantic coast and the Chesapeake Bay.

The Climate Change and Coast Smart Construction executive order directs, among other things, that all new and reconstructed state facilities and infrastructure be planned and constructed to avoid or at least minimize future flood damage. The executive order comes at a time when the latest available data predicts a large swath of the Atlantic coast from North Carolina to Massachusetts are in a defined “hot spot” for sea level rise in the future.

“As storms such as Hurricane Sandy have shown, it is vital that we commit our resources and expertise to create a ready and resilient Maryland by taking the necessary steps to adapt to the rising sea and unpredictable weather,” O’Malley said. “In studying and planning for storms and climate change, we can ensure that our land, infrastructure and most importantly our citizens are safe and prepared.”

The executive order enacts a number of policy directives, including directing all state agencies to consider the risk of coastal flooding and sea level rise when they design capital budget projects. The order also directs the Department of General Services to update its architectural and engineering guidelines to require new and rebuilt structures to be elevated two or more feet above the 100-year base flood level.

“Over the past three decades, Maryland’s climate has become hotter and water levels within the Chesapeake Bay have continued to rise,” said Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Program Manager for Climate Change Policy Zoe Johnson this week. “The region’s recent extreme storms and weather have demonstrated just how vulnerable our natural resources and infrastructure can be to such events. The executive order will be instrumental in reshaping how we build along Maryland’s coasts.”

The executive order also charges the DNR to work with the Maryland Commission on Climate Change, as well as local governments and other parties where appropriate, to develop additional Coast Smart guidelines within the next nine months for the siting and construction of new and rebuilt state structures. The directive also includes infrastructure improvements such as roads, bridges, water and sewer systems and other essential public utilities.