Joy and self-congratulation greeted the announcement two weeks ago of the $37 million reconstruction of the Farragut Sea Wall at the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) in Annapolis. Optimistic comments by political figures forecast that the wall, to be raised and repaired, would protect USNA until 2100.
I doubt it.
Nine high tide flood days in 2021 in Annapolis, with 115 expected by 2050–does this data justify upgrading the sea wall, or render it a mere stopgap? I believe the latter is true.
Heavy storms continually flood downtown Annapolis, as well as the academy. A coalition of groups designed a plan to raise the height of the city dock promenade, along with other actions, to create space better able to manage sea-level rise.
Storm-caused surges will continue to assault the East Coast. It is inevitable. Climate change and global warming are permanently disabling parts of our lives. Buildings and institutions we treasure, such as the Naval Academy, face serious threats to their stability. While upgrading a sea wall that protects USNA from damage is necessary, it could be useless by 2050.
If the academy is to remain facing the scenic Severn River, it must be raised somehow to two or three feet above sea level—or be relocated to higher ground. I understand that my thoughts are blasphemous and unthinkable. USNA alumni would be aghast at the suggestion that the academy should move to another safer site.
After living in Annapolis for two years, I have learned that the city has many attributes, such as its historic district, the State Capital, St. John’s College and, of course, the Naval Academy. I would venture to say that the Navy’s premier leadership training school is the centerpiece of Annapolis. It is a magnet for residents taking advantage of cultural and athletic activities. Middies are an integral part of the viewscape as they run throughout the city and appear strolling in their dress uniforms. USNA is an economic driver in drawing visitors.
Sen. Ben Cardin said at the groundbreaking that he would continue seeking ways to bolster the resiliency of military installations. The Secretary of the Navy said the upgrading of the Farragut Sea Wall is among several projects to protect the academy’s future.
I hope that the Navy and Congress find scientifically proven methods to heighten the campus, whether that means pumping in dirt and reconfiguring the walkways and streets at USNA. I even wonder if buildings can be lifted and placed on higher foundations.
The cost of adapting to climate change will be astronomical. But so would building an entirely new campus on a site unaffected by constant storm surge. The loss to Annapolis would be incalculable. If the academy were viewed as a huge carrier ship, trying to stay afloat despite instability, it surely would draw immediate, major repairs.
My comments reflect an unfortunate acceptance of the consequences of the failure of citizens worldwide to limit Co2 emissions and deter the disastrous extent of global warming. Simply, the ship has sailed. Sea-level rise is unavoidable. We must adapt at huge expense.
When the Naval Academy Superintendent, Vice Admiral Sean S. Buck, appeared before a congressional defense committee in March 2021, he painted a gloomy picture of the effect of storm surge and high-tide flooding on the service academy. He cited the increasing incidence of “nuisance flooding” from two to three to 150 annually.
These increasingly frequent incidents are more than just annoying, they interfere with the education and training of Navy officers. What higher education institution could cope constantly with disruptive flooding? While the Navy fights primarily on seas throughout the world, attending class in flooded classrooms is not part of the school’s charter.
A $37 million sea wall upgrade, while impressive, has a defined shelf life. More substantive improvements are critical, whether they are unseen—and unsuitable for a photo involving elected officials and high-ranking Navy officers and civilian leaders.
I suggest that the Department of the Navy and the Naval Academy look to the incomparable Venice, Italy to understand and accept the need to spend billions of dollars to provide solutions to retain, if not upgrade the stability and permanence of the academy. Further, taxpayers ought to opine whether they think the expenditures are justified considering other national priorities.
I vote yes.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. After 44 years in Easton, Howard and his wife, Liz, moved in November 2020 to Annapolis, where they live with Toby, a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel who has no regal bearing, just a mellow, enticing disposition.