Wednesday, April 24, 2024

‘We Are Being Inundated’: Jamestown Endangered By Climate Change

Jamestown’s future is threatened by flooding. (WYDaily/Molly Feser)

JAMESTOWN — The National Trust for Historic Preservation has named Jamestown to its 2022 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places due to climate change threats.

Preservation Virginia, the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation and the National Trust for Historic Preservation have issued an urgent call to action to help save the site of the first permanent English settlement in North America from the significant threats posed by climate change in the next five years.

“We’ve listed Jamestown this year because this is a place of national and international significance, and because the historic and archaeological remains here are under daily threat from the growing impacts of climate change,” Rob Nieweg, vice president of preservation services and outreach of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is a privately-funded nonprofit organization that has been working since 1949 to save historic sites. The Trust believes that preservation strategies developed for Jamestown can serve as models for other similarly vulnerable sites in Virginia and across the nation.

The climate change threats are increasingly significant due to sea-level rise along the James River, compounded over the years by extreme storm events.

The island, which is just three feet above sea level, has long been vulnerable to storms and flooding. Sandwiched between the James River on one side and a swamp on the other, one-third of Preservation Virginia’s portion of the island has been lost to sea-level rise.

The engineering system designed to mitigate the issues dates back to the 1950s, according to Michael Lavin, director of collections and conservation for Jamestown Rediscovery.

The Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation has a plan to engineer more modern solutions to help the property adapt to immediate threats imposed by sea-level rise and extreme weather events.

However, Preservation Virginia and the Foundation are in need of partners and funding to carry out their climate change mitigation plan to save Jamestown. 

Senator Tim Kaine showed his support for the efforts, noting that the bipartisan infrastructure bill that was passed in 2021 includes funding that can be used for projects such as this. Though people visit Historic Jamestown to explore the history of the last 400 years, he said that this is about its future.


Jamestown’s archaeological remains are under daily threat from the growing impacts of climate change. (WYDaily/Molly Feser)

“We’ve got to have a conversation about, not the last 400 years, but the next 100,” he said. “How will the next 100 years look for this historic site?”

Jamestown Rediscovery’s Director of Archaeology Dave Givens said there is an “absolute sense of urgency” in how the foundation raises money in the next five years.

Givens also said, though there will be a shift in the public way that the foundation conducts archaeology, it will give them the opportunity to teach about climate change and cultural resources.

Stephen Talley, landscape architect for VHB, the Foundation’s engineering consultant on the project, said that they are currently in the process of developing the framework.

While mitigation plans such as elevating the land have not been solved yet, Talley said that much of the work done to date has been research and analysis to understand the impacts.

Lavin said that the cost for the project will be “tens of millions” of dollars.  

President and CO of the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation James Horn said that implementation of the plan must proceed quickly to avoid further risk and damage.

“The next five years are critical to us to begin to take those measures that need to be implemented as soon as we possibly can,” Horn said. “If we miss that window, then the challenges in terms of bringing in those remedial measures we need to take will become much more difficult in the future. This is not something we can delay.”

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