Toren Elsen Bio

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Toren Elsen is taking the Virginia Coastal Policy Clinic course this year after working for five years as a paralegal at Beveridge & Diamond environmental law firm in Washington, DC, and spending last summer with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Water Enforcement Division. Toren hopes to gain practical experience with local—rather than federal—government agencies through his work with the Clinic. “The Clinic is one of the standout environmental programs that William & Mary has to offer,” says Toren. Toren will be working with the Virginia Environmental Endowment, a foundation that provides grants for environmental work in the state, to analyze Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs). SEPs “offer a really good potential way to have enforcement actions help the environment instead of only being a … [Read more...]

Sean Smiley Bio

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Sean Smiley enjoys the analytical thinking and argument necessary for a successful legal career. One of the most fascinating aspects of the law, he says, is the different approaches and variables that lead to “things not necessarily always having one right answer.” Sean hopes to pursue a career involving resource management, land use policy, and other environmental issues resulting from human influences. As a student in the Virginia Coastal Policy Clinic this fall, Sean will be examining issues with inherited property in the face of sea level rise. Many rural communities in Virginia have a number of properties that will be heavily impacted by sea level rise in the coming years. If the property owner dies intestate (without a will), descendants collectively inherit the real estate in question. In these situations, over time, the … [Read more...]

Jeremy Forrest Bio

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As a student in this fall’s Virginia Coastal Policy Clinic, Jeremy Forrest will be working with representatives from the Center for Sea Level Rise at Old Dominion University, the Navy, Air Force, and Army, as well as local and state officials to create a framing document for a “whole of government” pilot project. This project will create an organization that brings together various government agencies and private and public interests to discuss sea level rise preparedness and resilience planning in the Hampton Roads area. “It’s interesting because it’s a brand-new project that has not been done before,” says Jeremy. His role will be giving advice on organizational structure and assisting in creating substantive short-term goals for the new organization. Addressing these issues is important in Norfolk, an area that is … [Read more...]

James Andris Bio

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James Andris has always been interested in pursuing a career in litigation, particularly in the field of administrative law. Through his time as a student at the William & Mary Law School, James says that he has come to a better understanding that “litigation involves not only going to trial, but also research and writing to develop theories to defend cases.” James hopes to strengthen these skills and hone his understanding of the structure of Virginia agencies as a student in the Virginia Coastal Policy Clinic this fall. James will be writing a white paper for the Clinic examining the potential for government liability for failure to protect citizens from known threats like sea level rise. The paper will clarify the current state of the law in Virginia, address the potential for local government’s liability, and recommend … [Read more...]

Jacob Testa Bio

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“I’m looking forward to doing work that will be solving a county’s problems and affecting real people’s lives,” says Jacob Testa, who joined the Virginia Coastal Policy Clinic at the William & Mary Law School this fall. Jacob will be working with the Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission (MPPDC) to create a memorandum for Mathews County, VA, on property value assessments following the Virginia Department of Health’s new septic system regulations. Many rural properties in this area, which were undevelopable because of the low-lying land and high water table, now can be built on due to the permitting of engineered on-site septic systems. However, real estate value assessments have not yet taken these on-site property changes into account. As a result, local government is losing property tax revenue that would … [Read more...]

Hannah Fish Bio

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Hannah Fish experienced the rewards of an environmental law career during her work with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) last summer. Working for the lobbying arm of the ASPCA, Hannah had the opportunity to be at the front end of the policymaking process rather than in litigation about prior policy. Now as a student in the Virginia Coastal Policy Clinic, she hopes to connect her passion for wildlife issues to coastal policy on wetlands. Wetland habitats have a wide variety of both animal and plant species and provide ecosystem services. However, Virginia stands to lose 50-80% of its tidal wetlands within the next century due to sea level rise, according to Wetlands Watch, a Norfolk-based non-profit environmental advocacy organization. Taking a closer look, Hannah will be researching the connection … [Read more...]

Garrett Gee Bio

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Garrett Gee enrolled in the Virginia Coastal Policy Clinic this fall hoping to follow his passion for transportation and energy policy through the lens of environmental law. Garrett worked for the Department of Transportation last summer and sees the Clinic as a unique opportunity at William & Mary to focus on issues under local jurisdiction such as land use. During his time with the Clinic, Garrett will be writing a memorandum for the Chesapeake Bay Commission on how laws in other states have addressed sea level rise and its implications for property. “I am excited to work hand in hand with the Chesapeake Bay Commission to help advance legislative best practices that protect the Bay, the climate, and the economic health of Virginia,” says Garrett. The Commission is a tri-state legislative consortium that brings together … [Read more...]

Ben Willis Bio

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As a Suffolk, VA, resident, Ben experienced the direct impact of environmental resource management policies. While his family preferred to use grasses and native plantings to control shoreline erosion along their property, it was cost-prohibitive, and in his case, plantings would have been less effective than traditional, hard shoreline measures. Still, watching his family and others in this waterfront community implement shoreline erosion control sparked his interest in the legal components of conservation. “It’s a vicious cycle,” says Ben. “As we lose [aquatic vegetation], we lose the natural processes that prevent erosion and keep the Bay clean.” Now as a student in the Virginia Coastal Policy Clinic, the second-year William & Mary Law student is looking forward to working more directly with coastal policy issues. Ben … [Read more...]

National Geographic, Sea Level Rise, and Virginia’s Coasts: Part II: Navigating Economic Impacts and Solutions

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“As the planet warms, the sea rises.  Coastlines flood.  What will we protect?  What will we abandon?  How will we face the danger of rising seas?” Tim Folger’s popular National Geographic article focuses on the dangers of sea level rise across the planet, to which Virginia’s coasts will also be vulnerable. In addition to demonstrating that our planet’s coasts will be vulnerable, Folger goes on further to point out the economic risks rising seas pose and possible solutions for mitigating those risks. Folger thinks sea level rise is no longer a secret or something we can keep denying, but rather he thinks its a reality we will all need to face sooner or later.  As discussed in Part I of this Blog article, while Folger did not discuss the risks for Virginia specifically, the Virginia coasts are not immune to rising … [Read more...]

National Geographic, Sea Level Rise, and Virginia’s Coasts: Part I: The Threat is Real

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“As the planet warms, the sea rises.  Coastlines flood.  What will we protect?  What will we abandon?  How will we face the danger of rising seas?” In a recent and popular article, National Geographic’s Tim Folger addressed the dangerous effects of rising seas across the world.   The article focused on more extreme weather events resulting from climate change and was paired with an interactive map showing the dangers of sea level rise across the world.  While the article doesn’t focus on Virginia, it’s clear from the maps and general issues discussed that Virginia will not be exempt from the dangers of sea level rise. In the fall of 2012, the Northeast was devastated by Hurricane Sandy.  Through the course of its destruction, Hurricane Sandy managed to cause $19 billion in damages and the loss of forty-three … [Read more...]

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