By Sherry DiBari

Old Dominion University has been granted over $700,000 for a collaborative project aimed at tackling recurring flooding issues using green infrastructure and nature-based designs in five underserved southside Norfolk neighborhoods.

The funding includes a $494,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s (NFWF) National Coastal Resilience Fund (NCRF) complemented with an additional matching contribution of $213,000 from the City of Norfolk’s Office of Resilience and Division of Environmental Stormwater Management and ODU’s Institute for Coastal Adaptation & Resilience (ICAR).

The two-year project runs from Jan. 1, 2024 through December 2025. The award is part of a larger $10.8 million NFWF NCRF grant focused on enhancing coastal resilience in Hampton Roads.

Mujde Erten-Unal, associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, is the principal investigator (PI) for the project. The co-principal investigators are Dalya Ismael, assistant professor in the Department of Engineering Technology, and Carol Considine, professor in the Department of Engineering Technology and director of Applied Projects at ICAR.

Erten-Unal will oversee the project through the Coastal Community Design Collaborative (CCDC), a cross-university, cross-disciplinary group dedicated to sea level rise mitigation. The CCDC, established in 2014, includes ODU’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, the Civil Engineering Technology program based in the Department of Engineering Technology and the Hampton University Department of Architecture. The nonprofit organization Wetlands Watch is also a partner in the grant.

Erten-Unal emphasized that the efforts of the CCDC and this project go beyond improving the lifelong learning skills of engineering students. It also teaches them about contributing to and working with the community. The initiative will involve community members in decision-making, offering both flood risk reduction and educational opportunities for youth to understand adaptation strategies related to climate change.

Students from Old Dominion University and Hampton University will collaborate with local academics, professionals, political entities and community members to create tailored neighborhood plans. A crucial aspect of the project involves engaging and training community members in planning, data collection and discussion.

The CCDC has previously designed 10 community project plans, including the Chesterfield Heights neighborhood of the Ohio Creek Watershed Project. After having professional engineers review the plans, the City of Norfolk incorporated the students’ designs and submitted them to the Department of Housing and Urban Development's National Disaster Resilience Competition, winning a $120 million grant for the state of Virginia. The design competition team was awarded the Norfolk Environmental Action Award for their efforts.

The CDCC’s approach involves designs that are sustainable, transferable and scalable. Past nature-based solutions implemented by the CDCC include living shorelines, rain gardens, rainwater harvesting devices, oyster habitats, and permeable pavement. Stormwater best management practices are also introduced to reduce runoff and address clean water issues.

“This is an excellent example of how engineers can use their expertise to benefit and partner with community stakeholders to address real problems in our community,” said Kenneth Fridley, dean of the Batten College of Engineering and Technology.

Project partners include ICAR, the City of Norfolk’s Office of Resilience and Division of Environmental Stormwater Management as well as the Berkeley, Campostella Heights, Campostella, Diggs Town and OakLeaf Forest Civic Leagues.