Special Panel: Planning for Coastal Resilience

Date: Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Time: 1:30 – 2:50pm

Location: VBCC – L1 Ballroom One

Moderator: Dr. Jessica Whitehead, Joan P. Brock Endowed Executive Director, Institute for Coastal Adaptation and Resilience, Old Dominion University


Developing a Whole of Government, Whole of Community Approach to Coastal Resilience in Virginia The Institute for Coastal Adaptation and Resilience (ICAR) at ODU, in conjunction with the Commonwealth Center for Recurrent Flooding Resiliency (CCRFR), will host this panel discussion on the Developing a Whole of Government, Whole of Community Approach to Coastal Resilience in Virginia. The panel will highlight state, regional and city government’s work they have been doing and their plans for future work. Discussion following presentations will focus on how this work is coordinated across levels of government, how the community is engaged in the work, and what steps should be taken to improve the process in Virginia. Coastal Virginia is experiencing one of the highest rates of relative sea level rise in the United States. Rural and urban communities are developing unique solutions that provide excellent examples for implementation beyond coastal Virginia. Join this panel discussion to develop an understanding of what has been accomplished in Virginia and how it applies to your local communities.


Led by   



Dr. Jessica Whitehead is the Joan P. Brock Endowed Executive Director of the Institute for Coastal Adaptation and Resilience (ICAR) at Old Dominion University. Dr. Whitehead is serving the U.S. Global Change Research Program as the non-federal chapter lead author for the Northeast Chapter of the forthcoming Fifth U.S. National Climate Assessment. Previously, Dr. Whitehead was the first statewide Chief Resilience Officer for North Carolina, based in the NC Office of Recovery and Resiliency. She was also an adjunct lecturer for the Masters in Emergency and Disaster Management program at Georgetown University, and the first coastal climate extension specialist with the NC Sea Grant and the South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium and the Carolinas Integrated Sciences and Assessments (CISA) Program. She earned her Doctor of Philosophy in geography and Master of Science in meteorology from The Pennsylvania State University and a Bachelor of Science in physics with a concentration in meteorology from the College of Charleston.



Elspeth McMahon, Vice President for Maritime Initiatives, Old Dominion University

Elspeth McMahon is Old Dominion University’s inaugural Associate Vice President for Maritime Initiatives. Graduating from Massachusetts Maritime Academy in 2004, she is currently a USCG Licensed Merchant Marine Deck Officer, Commander in the United States Navy Reserves, and former Assistant Professor from the Marine Transportation Department at the State University of New York Maritime College. She is currently completing her doctoral degree in Nautical Sciences at the University of Antwerp and Antwerp Maritime Academy in Belgium, studying the future of mariner training with the onset of autonomous shipping. McMahon will work to make ODU the leader in all things maritime in the Hampton Roads region and beyond.



Matthew Wells, Director, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation

Matthew Wells became DCR director March 21, 2022. He has a background that brings together policy, politics and advocacy, with over two decades of experience in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. Immediately before joining DCR, he was Senior Regional Manager for State Government Relations for WestRock, a global leader in sustainable fiber-based packaging solutions, where he oversaw the company’s legislative interests in environmental stewardship and sustainability, forestry, economic development and other issues across multiple states. He also brings substantial experience in state government, having held senior analyst and special advisory positions with Virginia’s departments of Motor Vehicles and Alcoholic Beverage Control. Wells holds a degree in foreign affairs from the University of Virginia and a certificate in sustainability from Virginia Commonwealth University.


Ben McFarlane, Senior Regional Planner, Hampton Roads Planning District Commission

Ben McFarlane is a Senior Regional Planner for the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, the regional planning organization for southeastern Virginia. Mr. McFarlane has been with the HRPDC for thirteen years, working primarily on the Commission’s coastal resources management efforts. He is the lead planner for the Commission’s work on coastal resiliency, coastal zone management, and military-locality coordination. He received a B.A. in Economics and a Master of Urban and Environmental Planning from the University of Virginia. He is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners and a Certified Floodplain Manager.


Carolyn Heaps-Pecaro, Resiliency Officer, City of Hampton

Carolyn Heaps-Pecaro is the City of Hampton’s Resiliency Officer, a role she has held since August of 2021. In this position, she coordinates the work of an interdisciplinary, multi-departmental team that builds Coastal Resilience across the community. Her current work includes overseeing the creation of water plan for Hampton’s Downtown, and surrounding neighborhoods. Prior to joining Hampton, Carolyn supported climate resilience and adaptation initiatives including implementation of The Resilience Adaptation Feasibility Tool (The “RAFT”), and managing USAID-funded international development programs.


Joe Rieger, Deputy Director – Restoration, Elizabeth River Project

Joe Rieger has worked for the non-profit, Elizabeth River Project, for 18 years and is the Deputy Director of Restoration. Joe has managed numerous wetland, oyster, and sediment restorations projects in the Elizabeth and Lafayette Rivers. Joe was the project manager for the remediation of Money Point which was the first nationally recognized community-led cleanup of contaminated sediments. He was also the project manager for oyster restoration in the Lafayette River, which became the first river in Virginia to meet Chesapeake Bay Program restoration goals in 2018. His position involves working directly with federal and state governments, waterfront industries, universities and the citizens of Hampton Roads, Virginia. Joe received his Bachelor of Science from Ohio University in 1998 and received a master’s degree in Aquatic Ecology from Old Dominion University in 2002. Joe and his wife KC live in Norfolk on the Lafayette River. They have two sons, Walter and Lucas who both enjoy baseball and fishing on the river.