NOAA Coastal Zone Enhancement Grants (Section 309)

NOAA's Coastal Zone Enhancement Program (CFDA Number: 11.419) provides formula grants to state and territorial coastal zone management programs to help jurisdictions enhance and improve the management of coastal resources in nine "enhancement areas" (defined below).  Funds are provided directly to states that can use those grants to assess their coastal management programs and identify opportunities to enhance the effectiveness of their programs.  Grants are used to develop legal and policy changes and cannot be used for capital projects.

Purpose: The Coastal Zone Enhancement Program encourages states with approved coastal management programs to strengthen those CMPs in specific “enhancement areas”: wetlands, coastal hazards, public access, marine debris, cumulative and secondary impacts, special area management plans, ocean and Great Lakes resources, energy and government facility siting, and aquaculture. More specifically, coastal zone enhancement objectives include protecting, restoring and enhancing coastal wetlands; preventing or reducing threats to life and property by eliminating development or redevelopment in high-hazard areas and managing development in other hazard areas; increasing public access to the coast; reducing marine debris by managing uses and activities that contribute to debris; developing procedures to assess and control cumulative and secondary impacts of coastal growth and development; to develop or implement a special area management plan (SAMP) for important coastal areas; to plan for use of ocean resources; to adopt procedures for siting of energy facilities; and to adopt procedures for siting of aquaculture facilities (15 CFR § 923.122). Section 309 grants can be made to coastal states to fund projects and enhancements within one or more of these nine areas.

Eligible Uses: Section 309 grants are intended to help coastal states improve their CMPs. These grants can be used for three overarching uses: to fund the development of their strategy for improving their CMP, to carry out strategies designed to lead to a CMP program change, and to implement of CMP program changes that have been made within the past two years (e.g., enforcement of new policies recently adopted into the state’s CMP). Section 309 grants cannot be used for acquisition or low-cost construction projects.

Adaptation Uses:  The NOAA guidance on the Enhancement program specifies a number of different ways that states can use these funds to support adaptation at both the state and local levels, including the following examples:

  • to identify wetland areas that are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, identify sites where restoration will have the greatest chance of success given climate change projects, and to identify restoration projects that will have adaptation benefits
  • to develop climate change adaptation plans or consider climate change in hazard mitigation plans or other planning documents
  • to enhance land-use policies to prepare for the impacts of climate change such as restricting new development or redevelopment in coastal high hazard areas and updating shoreline setback requirements
  • to require consideration of climate change and future sea-level rise in the siting and design of public facilities and infrastructure
  • to enhance or develop land-acquisition, relocation assistance or buyout programs
  • to establish a transfer of development rights program to reduce development densities in coastal high hazard areas
  • to prohibit use of hard shoreline armoring
  • to develop policies to promote use of green infrastructure or living shorelines
  • to develop beach nourishment programs
  • to adopt a managed retreat strategy
  • to update state or local building codes
  • to establish a grant program to support local risk reduction efforts
  • to develop a loan program to help retrofit buildings to better withstand future sea-level rise and flooding

Eligible Grantees: Coastal states are the primary grantee, but it appears that states can subcontract or subgrant funds.  Some states also allow subawards to universities, non-profits, and even for-profit institutions.

Process and Requirements: To be eligible to receive enhancement grants the coastal state must have an approved “Assessment and Strategy” developed in accordance with NOAA guidance and 15 CFR § 923.128. States are specifically directed to consider how climate change will affect coastal resources and development in their assessments and strategies.  The Assessment and Strategy is completed every five years and describes the state’s assessment of its effectiveness in addressing coastal management issues, and the state’s priority areas (from within the nine enhancement areas/objectives) for coastal management over the next five years. Section 309 grants are awarded primarily through a weighted formula, with a smaller portion through a competitive process (for Projects of Special Merit); no match is required for Section 309 grants. 


The Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA) provides up to date information on recent appropriations to this program from Congress, the average size of grants, and matching requirements.  A summary is included here, but check the CFDA for more up to date information:

  • Recent Obligations: (Cooperative Agreements) FY 15 $66,687,490; FY 16 est $77,533,049; and FY 17 est $77,533,049
  • Size of Grants: $795,000 to $2,300,000 (average $2,000,000).

Authorization: Coastal Zone Management Act, 16 U.S.C. § 1451 et seq. [specific section: 16 USC § 1456b (309)]


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