Maryland is moving to batten down the hatches after Gov. Martin O'Malley signed an executive order to protect against flooding due to rising sea levels.
The initiative, called the Climate Change and Coast Smart Construction Executive Order, sets new standards for construction of state buildings and creates a work group to develop similar standards for structures like roads, bridges and sewer systems.
"As storms such as Hurricane Sandy have shown, it is vital that we commit our resources and expertise to create a ready and resilient Maryland," O'Malley said. "In studying and planning for storms and climate change, we can ensure that our land, infrastructure and, most importantly, our citizens are safe and prepared."
The state loses 580 acres of land to shoreline erosion every year, and 13 islands have disappeared into the Chesapeake Bay due to rising water levels, according to Zoe Johnson, the program manager for climate change at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
Johnson added that recent storms took an especially hard toll on coastal park facilities, with damage done to state parks including Point Lookout, Sandy Point and Janes Island.
"We've known for a long time that Maryland is extremely vulnerable," she said. "We want to make sure that when we're putting new structures in these areas that we're designing to a higher standard in light of climate change and extreme events."
Another provision commissions an update to the state's sea level projections, which currently predict a 3.4-foot rise by 2100. Johnson pointed to a U.S. Geological Survey study from earlier this year that found sea levels along the coastline from Massachusetts to North Carolina are rising at an annual rate three to four times faster than the global average.
"The projections we're currently using were put out in 2008," Johnson said. "Since then, there's been a great deal of new information and science research that the University of Maryland is going to work to provide us."
Not everyone is pleased with the executive order, however. House of Delegates Minority Leader Anthony O'Donnell, a Republican who represents Calvert and St. Mary's counties, which both border the Chesapeake Bay, said the policy should have gone through the General Assembly.
"It's not surprising that this governor would simply bypass the legislative process, as he hasn't shown much respect for the checks and balances afforded by our constitutional system," O'Donnell said. "This is yet another example of Gov. O'Malley usurping legislative prerogative."