New Hampshire Senate Bill (S.B.) 285: Establishing a Coastal Resilience and Economic Development Program

On August 3, 2019, the State of New Hampshire passed Senate Bill (S.B.) 285 to establish a coastal resilience and economic development program and provide local governments with innovative new tools to address climate emergencies due to sea-level rise, storm surge, and flooding. One notable provision of the bill allows municipalities to either alter their existing boundaries or create a new municipality by combining existing ones (Section 2, codified in New Hampshire Revised Statutes § 31:9-d). Another notable provision allows municipalities to establish Joint Municipal Development and Revitalization Districts, which may include land from several municipalities, to create agreements to share tax revenues and expenditures across jurisdictions (Section 3, codified in New Hampshire Revised Statutes § 162-K:16). The bill provides an example of an innovative state law supporting local governments to overcome governance challenges when adapting to climate change impacts that pose cross-jurisdictional challenges, including coordinating regional responses to sea-level rise and sharing tax revenues and the associated costs of these responses. Other states might consider authorizing similar tools for annexation or multi-jurisdictional districts to aid local governments confronting these emerging issues and improve cross-jurisdictional resilience to sea-level rise and other coastal hazards. 

The two main coastal resilience features provided in the bill include a provision allowing municipalities to unify or adjust their municipal boundaries (Section 2), and a provision allowing municipalities to establish revitalization districts as a result of a climate change emergency (Sections 3 and 4; Section 4 is codified in New Hampshire Revised Statutes § 12-A:68 through 12-A:70). The bill’s policy objective is to support municipalities in New Hampshire’s coastal and Great Bay Estuary regions to prepare for sea-level rise, storm surge, and flooding from extreme precipitation in response to the New Hampshire Coastal Risk and Hazards Commission’s (CRHC) final report, Preparing New Hampshire for Projected Storm Surge, Sea-Level Rise, and Extreme Precipitation. The bill became effective on October 2, 2019. 

  • Climate Emergency and Municipality Unification: A unique feature of the bill is that it promotes municipal cooperation in a climate change adaptation context. Under section 2.I of the bill, a municipality's legislative body may declare a “climate emergency” and engage in planning for municipal boundary adjustments or unification between multiple municipalities. This provision allows municipalities to either alter their existing boundaries or join with other municipalities to create a new one with unified governing bodies (Section 2.I). As a result, municipalities can better coordinate their responses to sea-level rise impacts and other coastal hazards, and share in both the collection of tax revenues and costs to pay for these expenditures. The bill also outlines the procedural requirements for how local governments can initiate the boundary adjustment or unification process (Section 2.II).
  • Joint Municipal Development and Revitalization Districts: Sections 3 and 4 of the bill allow municipalities to establish Joint Municipal Development and Revitalization Districts, which can consist of land from several municipalities, to share and allocate tax revenues and expenditures (Section 3). The objectives of this district are the same as for municipal annexation or unification but through an alternative means.

Other notable provisions of the bill include:

  • Coastal Resilience and Cultural and Historic Reserve Districts and Fund: Enables local governments to establish coastal resilience and cultural and historic reserve districts and an accompanying fund to acquire land and relocate cultural and historic structures to higher ground less vulnerable to sea-level rise and flooding (Section 5, codified in New Hampshire Revised Statutes § 36:53-a, and Section 6, codified in New Hampshire Revised Statutes § 228:116);
  • Coastal Risk and Hazard Preparedness: Specifies procedures for state-local coordination if the state Department of Transportation considers abandoning any state highway “because of sea-level rise, storm surge, and extreme precipitation events, or in anticipation of such events” as provided in the CRHC final report. 

S.B. 285 is an example of an innovative state law that can enable local governments to address governance challenges that may arise when climate impacts cut across jurisdictional boundaries. By allowing for municipal unification and boundary adjustment, and the creation of multi-jurisdictional districts, the bill supports local governments in New Hampshire seeking to better coordinate regional responses to sea-level rise impacts and other coastal hazards, and co-operate to share tax revenues and the costs of adaptation strategies. Other states might consider authorizing similar tools and processes for annexation or multi-jurisdictional districts to aid local governments confronting these emerging issues.

 

Publication Date: August 3, 2019

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  • State of New Hampshire

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