November 10, 2017

In Letter To Trump, Warner & Kaine Ask Him To Follow Through With Commitment To Tangier Island

“Tangier Island’s residents have put their faith in you, and we stand ready to work with you.”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine sent a letter to President Donald Trump asking him to work with them to fulfill the assurances he made to local leaders on Virginia’s Tangier Island about the future of their community. In a widely reported June 2017 call, President Trump reached out Tangier Mayor James "Ooker" Eskridge after seeing a CNN report on the Island and assured him that the Island would be around for hundreds of years. Right now, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates that if immediate action is not taken, Tangier Island could be substantially uninhabitable within the next 50 years due to erosion, commonly believed to be caused by sea level rise due to climate change. The island currently shrinks by 15 feet each year.

“We write to follow up on your commitment to Tangier Island, Virginia,” Warner and Kaine wrote. “It meant a great deal for the President of the United States to call Tangier’s mayor and give personal assurance of the island’s future. As Virginia’s U.S. Senators, we wish to work with you to preserve this unique community for future generations.”

The Senators also stressed that whatever one believes the causes of the problem are – sea level rise, erosion, or other – the time is now for solutions.

“We can debate the causes for why this is happening, but regardless, the effects are clear. It is urgent that we address those effects.”

Warner and Kaine, both former governors of Virginia, have each traveled to Tangier Island and seen the island’s vulnerability to rising sea levels, erosion and storm surge first hand. In the letter, they list several ways President Trump and his Administration can work with them to help residents on the island:

  • Expedite a proposed study on Tangier’s infrastructure needs that is currently working its way through the Army Corps of Engineers.
  • Give full and fair consideration to an Army Corps proposal for Tangier to be selected for a new beneficial re-use dredge fill pilot project authorized in the WIIN Act (WRDA 2016).
  • Instruct the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to become more involved in managing an area of the island that was formerly inhabited but has become too low-lying and now serves only as wildlife habitat as, “an opportunity to advance the agency’s wildlife mission while also helping out a community in need.”

Full text of the letter is below:

Dear President Trump:

We write to follow up on your commitment to Tangier Island, Virginia. It meant a great deal for the President of the United States to call Tangier’s mayor and give personal assurance of the island’s future. As Virginia’s U.S. Senators, we wish to work with you to preserve this unique community for future generations. To that end, we have several suggestions we hope you will direct your administration to pursue further.

A proposed study of Tangier’s infrastructure needs is working its way through the Army Corps of Engineers for potential authorization by Congress in the next Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). This is a lengthy process, and time is of the essence. Tangier Island has gradually decreased in size, resulting in the abandonment of previously habited parts of the island. If present trends continue, the entire island could be uninhabitable within decades, or sooner in the event of a Harvey or Maria-type storm. We can debate the causes for why this is happening, but regardless, the effects are clear. It is urgent that we address those effects.

We understand that Tangier Island has been submitted for consideration under a new beneficial reuse dredge fill pilot project authorized in the WIIN Act (WRDA 2016). While we are sure competition for this opportunity is intense, we request your administration give Tangier’s application full and fair consideration.

In addition, we understand Tangier leaders have discussed with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service a proposal for the Service to become more involved in managing an area of the island that is now home only to wildlife after it became too low-lying to support permanent human habitation. We hope you will ask agency leaders to seriously consider this.

We know the Service has limited funds and other wildlife assets in the Chesapeake Bay region, but this is an opportunity to advance the agency’s wildlife mission while also helping out a community in need. Given the ban on congressional earmarks and the challenges of small rural communities like Tangier (pop. under 500) in getting federal attention, it is important to secure equities from as many federal and private partners as possible. Tangier residents have pointed out to us that sizable investments have been made in similar nearby islands, such as the uninhabited Port Isobel Island, VA (right off Tangier); uninhabited Poplar Island, MD; and an even smaller (less than 300) community on Smith Island, MD. Tangier Island deserves no less.

We fully appreciate that communities across America much larger than Tangier also have pressing infrastructure needs, particularly in light of recent disasters. It is appropriate to follow robust cost-benefit calculations to determine the best use of limited federal dollars. But there are also rare circumstances under which a project may not score highly on traditional metrics yet is profoundly valuable.

Tangier Island is such a community. Its history and culture predate the United States, and its linguistic characteristics are unlike any in the world. Letting this island wither away due to bureaucratic inertia – or worse, an active decision to write it off – would not only result in the loss of people’s homes and way of life, but would be a cultural and historical loss to America. We should not let that happen. You will note that we agree on this even though the island’s political inclinations are well known. Some fights are important regardless of political benefit.

Tangier Island’s residents have put their faith in you, and we stand ready to work with you. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

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