Students address ways to solve Tangier’s ‘crisis’

by Jay Walker

With a blend of science and emotion, students from the seventh-grade Community Problem Solvers of Northumberland Middle School described a two-year-long effort to solve the crisis confronting Tangier Island.

They made the presentation at the Northumberland Association for Progressive Stewardship (NAPS) annual meeting February 11 at Heathsville United Methodist Church.

The crisis is being caused by a rising sea level combined with subsidence of the land. The emotion was focused on the fate of the people and culture of the island, which is about 14 miles off the Northumberland shore in the Chesapeake Bay. A crowd of about 80 attendees also reflected these two factors, as did two video presentations included on the program.

NAPS board member Shauna McCranie, the Problem Solvers Coach for 2016, introduced Grant Biddlecomb, Teagan Mullins, Channing Reynolds, Will Reger, Dalton Fulford, Shane Bryant, Skyler Pearson, Jessica Lee and Hallie Shackleford and explained that the 19-member Team Eco had been reduced by illness.

They described the plans developed with partners, including the U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers and Tangier town manager Renee Tyler.

Plan A is to build a jetty/seawall, that the Corps of Engineers plans to do in 2018. The questions raised are will it solve the problem and how long will this jetty last.

Plan B is to move the community to the mainland. “The Tangier community has significant cultural and economic reasons for staying on the island,” the report notes. “Most of Tangier’s people would tell you that they love their lifestyle and care very little for the fast-paced life on the mainland,” the report adds. So the question remains, where might they relocate to preserve the culture and economics of the community?

Plan C is relocate individually. This alternative is on-going as many young adults have already left the island to find work for a variety of reasons. In addition, the report states, “The children of Tangier might be the individuals who decide that they want another lifestyle besides that of their parents and grandparents.”

Plan D is do nothing. The problem solvers rejected this idea as unrealistic.

The report concluded with Plan E: “Can we figure out a plan E today?” This lament was based on the conclusion that Plan A is short term, Plans B and C are unfavorable to the people and Plan D is not acceptable.

To start the report, Pam Hagy, the Community Problem Solvers coach in 2015, described how the students, then in sixth-grade, received a Maryland license plate grant to spend three days at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Port Isobel education center, adjacent to Tangier Island. On their last day, after students visited the island and became aware of its problems, they decided their problem solving task would be “Save Tangier Island.”

Because of the size of the undertaking, Hagy advised the group to pursue a two-year project. They partnered with Tyler, who invited them to meet with the visiting Polynesian Hokule’a ocean-going canoe that was sailing the world to carry the message of the dangers created by climate change.

“So they rolled up their sleeves and decided they wanted to do a social media campaign to raise awareness for what is happening on Tangier Island, raised money for Tangier, started a Twitter feed and a Facebook page and partnered with Renee Tyler,” said Hagy.

The team also carried out a letter-writing effort to elected officials, she said.

The discussion at the end of the program, moderated by NAPS co-president Dr. Lynton Land, reflected the same concerns as the report—what to do for the Tangier community.

Attendees mentioned that the coastal communities of the Northern Neck are under the same dangers as the island. Tangier residents now living on the mainland provided emotional comments about what they still consider their homes.

McCranie noted that Tangier Mayor James Eskridge and Tyler hoped to be present, but had to cancel for lack of a pilot to fly them to the Northern Neck. As a result, she said the Community Problem Solvers will present their program this spring on Tangier. Justin Bowis, head of Tangier Island Cruises, said he would provide free transportation for the students to make that presentation.

At the end of the presentation, the seventh-graders received a solid round of applause for a job well done.

Jay Walker handles publicity for the Northumberland Association for Progressive Stewardship.