Secretary of Natural Resources Molly Ward drew an audience of more than 50 members of the Board of Directors for both the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce and the Virginia Peninsula Chamber on September 24, discussing the focus of Governor McAuliffe’s term and how her office is a part of it.
Such joint meetings are a committed partnership to tackle issues that affect businesses in the entire region. This was the second joint meeting of the two Chambers this year, and the fifth in the last three years overall.
Kasia Grzelkowski, Chair of the Virginia Peninsula Chamber and CEO of VersAbility Resources, welcomed Secretary Ward shaping the tone of the luncheon meeting, saying, “this is a time for bold action and nimble leadership” to address key issues and opportunities facing Hampton Roads such as climate change and offshore energy. President of Sentara Optima Health Plans and Chair of the Hampton Roads Chamber, Michael Dudley, was also on hand to thank Secretary Ward for her remarks.
Reminding the audience she “only has three years left,” Ward discussed early on that she isn’t far removed from these issues. As the former mayor of Hampton, and with her home right on the water, rising tidewaters are a threat to businesses and domiciles alike.
What she did as mayor, Ward says she’s carried over into the McAuliffe administration, serving as advocate and trying to solve the problems of her constituents. Saying that visitors to her office often share their issues, Ward says she puts a high priority on identifying potential solutions and soliciting their ideas.
“I will ask you the same thing,” Ward said to the audience, asking, “What can I do for you today and get it done in the next three years? If there’s a problem you have that I can help you solve, that’s what I see my job as. My door is always open. If there’s something I can do for you, I want you to call me. Often people wait until the 11th hour. I want to be on the ground floor and as early as possible. That’s what I want to focus on. I only have three years left!”
In addition to the help she can provide, Ward also challenged the Chamber leadership to think local, saying many of the solutions to regional issues lie not in Richmond, but must be coordinated locally. For that reason, she suggested voters pay more attention to those in local office. Saying there is a lot of power at the local level, “we should put care and nurturing to who we elect to those seats and why” as these leaders impact land use.
Ward has publicly said that protecting and promoting natural and historic resources are key to growing and diversifying the Commonwealth’s economy. Fielding a question from Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bryan K. Stephens regarding Governor McAuliffe’s position on a possible natural gas pipeline, Ward offered, “I think you already know the Governor is committed to the pipeline. He sees constantly the need to balance stewardship with economic development. He’s unapologetic about it.”
Ward went on to briefly discuss the concerns such a pipeline has for some Virginia communities outside Hampton Roads, but underscored the economic growth it presented and the creation of long-term jobs.
Ward acknowledged there are a great number of additional concerns her secretariat faces, but she is committed to championing a small set of achievable goals for the remainder of her term, as well as set the groundwork for those who follow her on issues that will take years to resolve.
Among her priorities is addressing the hazards of coastal flooding. Additional questions from the audience included possible policies for land use, filling in flood areas, rising insurance rates and curbing development in endangered areas.
On flooding, Ward suggested part of the reason it’s difficult to handle the threat rising tidewaters pose to the region is rooted in how the threat is communicated. Rather than rely on statistics that seemingly push the threat down the road, by demonstrating where the sea level will be in a century, Ward says the region should be able to rely on one credible source that projects sea level within a timeline that far shorter.
This engagement with Governor McAuliffe’s administration is part of the advocacy efforts of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce, central to its commitment to the business community, according to Stephens.
"Secretary Ward is the fourth cabinet secretary to address the Chamber this year, beyond the Governor’s own visit in April,” said Stephens. “By coordinating this kind of access, we connect our members with information first-hand and assist them in personally impacting policy and legislation for the benefit of all businesses in the region. Our members can count on more of these engagements in the future."