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Virginia taps Rob Young, Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines, for science expertise

By Melanie Threlkeld McConnell
Rob Young

Rob Young (right)

Rob Young, director of Western Carolina University’s Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines, was recently appointed by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam to a technical advisory committee as part of the Virginia Coastal Master Planning Framework that will guide development of the state’s master plan to adapt to environmental changes.

Young said officials there are being proactive in developing local, regional and statewide plans for coastal adaptation in response to rising sea level, storms and long-term climate change. The committee will help guide the state with future planning, regional collaboration and allocating state and federal funds.

“The tidewater Virginia area is ground zero for sea level rise on the East Coast, and with nuisance flooding the past 15 years, the communities of Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Portsmouth and Hampton get it,” he said. “Also, it’s a military-based community, so having a sensible response to coastal hazards and rising sea level is important to our national security.”

Young’s appointment reflects the important role science has in the understanding of climate change. “This is a classic example of the kind of position we hope to be in as a center where we have a state government at this level looking to us for advice and consultation on long-term coastal planning,” he said. “If you look at the members of the committee, most of them are not scientists, so I often end up being the only scientist with a group of decision makers.”

The appointment also holds special meaning for Young, a Virginia native, who earned his bachelor’s degree from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg. “I grew up on the Chesapeake Bay digging clams and fishing and riding my bike up and down Colonial Parkway along the York River, and swimming in the river,” he said. “I also grew up in a very middle class, working class family. My sister and I were the first ones to go to college. That kid who was hanging out on the York River could have never imagined playing even a small role in guiding long-term coastal planning for the state of Virginia. So that part is kind of neat.”

Young also has been appointed to serve on the South Carolina Flood Water Commission, established by Gov. Henry McMaster to identify solutions and ways to better coordinate efforts to mitigate increased flooding from rains, storms, hurricanes and tides. “Most of the people on that commission are appointed bureau chiefs from the executive branch, legislators and business interests, all to help guide the governor’s office on how they should respond to increased flooding,” Young said. “This is the role I often find myself in and it’s really what this center was set up to do, which is to communicate science to decision makers and be that unbiased person in the room who can provide input on the guiding planning, policy, rule-making and legislation.

Other recent appointments for Young include:

  • Healthy Gulf Board, a nonprofit organization focused on collaborating with and serving communities along the Gulf Coast to reverse exploitation of the Gulf’s natural resources.
  • The Center for Coastal and Marine Studies in Bulgaria, a research institute established to carry out scientific, research, publicity, educational, expert, project and consultancy activities in the field of coastal zone and marine space of the Black Sea Basin.
  • Technology Advisory Board of American Water Security Project, a Florida nonprofit coalition working to promote the need for wastewater infrastructure upgrades to protect waters and water bodies around the country.
  • Environmental and Energy Study Institute, based in Washington, D.C, which provides technical advice to Congress and portions of the executive branch.

For more information about WCU’s Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines, visit the website

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