VIRGINIA BEACH (VA) — Virginia Beach’s sprawling coastal community will vote on whether to approve one the largest municipal bonds in the United States that would be used for protection against rising seas or intensifying hurricanes.

The $568 million, if it passes Tuesday would be used to fund everything from road improvements to the closing of a 100-acre (40 hectare) city course for stormwater collection.

Economists predict that the city could lose billions in the next 50 years if it fails to act. Recurrent flooding is a constant threat to roads, businesses, and homes.

This referendum highlights the rising costs of adapting for climate change in U.S. cities. It will also measure Americans’ willingness and ability to approve these bonds, as more communities apply for funding.

Virginia Wasserberg said, “I’m doubtful that it will pass.” Virginia Wasserberg was a Virginia Beach resident whose Virginia Beach house was one of 1,400 homes and businesses that were flooded by heavy rainfalls left over from Hurricane Matthew.

Wasserberg, 41 years old, is a conservative Republican who homeschools her children. She also supports the bond. Since the flooding that flooded her neighborhood’s drainage system, Wasserberg has been campaigning for flood protections.

For the first time, homes that were miles away from the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean or Chesapeake Bay were submerged. Wasserberg claimed that her family fled to safety and called 911, only to find out that they couldn’t reach them.

Wasserberg stated, “I like it to say that it took a catastrophe to wake me up.”

In this city of almost half a million residents, voter approval is not guaranteed. However, some political observers believe that it can be leaning libertarian. Officials from the city say that property taxes will rise $115 to $171 per year if the bond passes.

Globally, the need to raise funds to protect communities from climate change is increasing, especially in the poorest parts of the globe. This topic will be discussed at the UN Climate Change Conference that starts Sunday in Glasgow.

The United States has 26% of ZIP codes that are “highly susceptible to flooding,” according Moody’s ESG Solutions. This track climate risks and sustainable finance.

Matt Kuchtyak (Vice President Outreach & Research) said that climate change is becoming a more serious threat and that more governments will be focusing on resilience and adaptation projects.

Numerous cities have approved substantial bonds. Miami residents approved a bond of $400 million in 2017, nearly half of which would be used to pay for storm drain upgrades and seawalls.

San Francisco voters approved a $425million bond to fund the first phase of strengthening a seawall that protects against rising oceans and earthquakes. In the same year, Houston voters approved $2.5 Billion in bonds to finance flood-control projects following Hurricane Harvey.

According to Richard Wiles (executive director of the Center for Climate Integrity), bonds could be the main vehicle for financing. This is because of the link between fossil fuels and climate change.

Wiles stated that “none of these cities have hundreds of millions of dollars lying around,” and added that Virginia Beach had proposed one of the largest bonds.

This could be a great place to test your ideas.

According to an report from Old Dominion University, just over half of the 400 respondents to a 2021 survey said they would pay more taxes to flood-protection projects. Half of respondents agreed that those who don’t experience flooding should not be required to pay for these projects.

Yet, Virginia Beach’s land is falling and the seas rise at alarming rates. Sea levels have increased nearly a foot (0.3 meters) since 1960. They are expected to rise 1.5 to 3 feet (0.5 – 1 meter) in the next 50 years.

Virginia Beach is largely located on low coastal plains. Sometimes water can slowly drain into tidal streams and tributaries.

According to an Old Dominion University study, the bond-funded projects could prevent the city from suffering up to $8 billion of flooding losses and associated economic consequences in the future. These losses amount to approximately a quarter Virginia Beach’s gross national product, or the total output of goods/services.

Robert McNab, an economics professor, said that flooding will increase in frequency and insurers will increase premiums, deny coverage, and eventually leave Virginia Beach altogether. “Businesses will face more difficulties in moving their goods to the market, and residents will have greater difficulty moving around the area.”

John Moss, a Virginia Beach city councilman, was a major force behind the referendum. He said that Virginia Beach could still finish the flood-protection project if the referendum fails. He said that it would take 25 instead of about a ten year.

Moss stated that even if the bond passes the projects will provide about a third overall protection against sea-level rise of 1.5 feet.

Moss stated that the bond was a “big ask”. But the threat is real.