Naval Academy plans to raise seawall as Annapolis sea level rise looms

Danielle Ohl
Contact Reporterdohl@capgaznews.com

The Naval Academy will raise one of its walls to combat sea level rise up to 3 feet in three decades, an environmental threat the institution shares with neighboring downtown Annapolis.

At the quarterly Board of Visitors meeting Monday, Superintendent Vice Adm. Ted Carter announced the project, which will raise the Farragut Seawall along the Severn River to ward off water for 75 years.

The project will raise the wall along Santee Basin, around the Robert Crown Sailing Center and extending along the Severn River to Triton Light. The project is still in the design phase, said spokesman Cmdr. David McKinney, but will likely begin work in 2020.

Annapolis, and by proxy the Naval Academy, is ground zero for sea level rise on the East Coast — the city had the nation’s biggest increase in yearly floods between 2007 and 2013, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In an intermediate situation — not the best and not the worst case scenario — the Severn River could rise anywhere from .6 to 3.6 feet by 2050, said Gina Henderson, an oceanography professor at the academy. To cope, the academy will add another 2.62 feet to the 5.4 foot Farragut wall, with features to allow another 1.68 feet of height.

The academy also experiences significant flooding along Ramsay Road, which borders Dorsey Creek. Funeral parties and visitors use the road to access the columbarium, where cremated remains of academy alumni are kept, and the cemetery. This year, the area experienced a record 38 flood days — up from 32 in 2011, Henderson said.

Unlike downtown Annapolis, where the flooding mostly bubbles up when the harbor backs up into the storm drains, the floodwater overtops the land around Ramsay Road. The Naval Academy is assessing whether to raise the road or move the columbarium, Henderson said.

Ramsay Road is a point of study for the Sea Level Rise Advisory Council, formed in 2015 to create a sea level adaptation plan for the academy. Academy researchers on the council help other government entities plan for their own flood mitigation as well.

But on the yard, the approach will have to be more piecemeal. The only parts of the academy that are “truly safe” from flooding are parts of Bancroft Hall, the Chapel and Buchanan House, Carter said.

“The plan is going to have to differ depending on different parts of the yard because some things are more mission-critical than others,” Henderson said.

For each road, building or field, the academy has to choose from three options, Carter said: armor to keep the water out, adapt to deal with the flooding when it comes or abandon the location altogether.

The academy is also constrained by its yearly budget. Moving an asset might be more cost-effective than, for example, installing underground flood mitigation systems like the City of Annapolis plans to stop flooding at City Dock.

“This is a multifaceted approach you’re hearing about today,” Carter said. “We don’t have all the answers today.”

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