Monday, March 11, 2013

Jamestown faces a future of rising tides

Rex Springston in the Richmond Times-Dispatch:  Nature has always been cruel here [in Jamestown]. Bad drinking water and mosquitoes, among other problems, bedeviled those who created in 1607 the first permanent English settlement in North America. Today the land itself is at risk, threatened by rising sea levels aided by a warming climate.

Most of Jamestown occupies an island that lies 3 feet or less above the tidal James River. If current projections hold, all of that low land will be underwater by 2100, and much of the island will be increasingly flooded long before then.

“It’s a national park, built around a historic event, that we may only see through photographs in a few decades,” said Skip Stiles, director of Wetlands Watch, a Norfolk group raising concerns about rising sea levels.

In southern James City County about 60 miles southeast of Richmond, Jamestown is a beautiful and historic area where the explorer Captain John Smith and the Indian Pocahontas once trod. It is lovingly called America’s birthplace.

The rising waters are a problem right now. Erosion eats away at the land, and underground water, pushed up by the rising James, is damaging a historic glass-making furnace, officials say. In addition, Hurricane Isabel flooded much of Jamestown Island in 2003, damaging a visitor center and causing $3.5 million in damage to ceramics, metal tools and other artifacts in the center. Hurricane Irene in 2011 damaged an aging seawall protecting Jamestown’s historic fort site.

It’s only going to get worse, officials say. “What we’re seeing and what’s being predicted is the sea-level rise is going to exacerbate everything,” said Dorothy Geyer, the natural-resource specialist for the Colonial National Historical Park....

A statue of Captain John Smith in Jamestown, Virginia, National Park Service shot


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