Like many local residents, Wanda Thornton, the town’s representative on the Accomack County board of supervisors, accepts that the sea is rising, but is skeptical that climate change and its effects have anything to do with the erosion of the beach. As a result, “I’m just not convinced that it requires the drastic change that some people think it does,” she said.
Four years on, after a series of angry public meetings, the sea keeps eating the shore, and the government keeps spending to fix the damage.
Even when it is happening in front of their face, some people can't admit to its reality. If what has happened on Wallops Island over the past 10 years occurred overnight, it might be considered "drastic" - but so long as it's 3-7 meters of lost shoreline per year, they will continue to throw money at their denial until they are knee-deep.
“It breaks my heart to think about it,” said Grayson Chesser, a decoy carver whose ancestors arrived in the Chesapeake Bay area four centuries ago. He lives outside Saxis, a town that’s losing ground to the water. Some nearby villages have disappeared altogether. “You’ve got to deal with the fact that it’s happening – and what are you going to do with those of us on the edge?”
It’s a question the U.S. government is dodging. More than 300 counties claim a piece of more than 86,000 miles (138,000 km) of tidal coastline in the United States, yet no clear national policy determines which locations receive help to protect their shorelines.
And nothing will happen so long as people let partisan politics blind them to reality.