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Managing the Retreat from Rising Seas — Woodbridge Township, New Jersey: Post-Hurricane Sandy Buyouts

July 15, 2020

Woodbridge Township, New Jersey is working with the New Jersey Blue Acres Program to implement a neighborhood-wide buyout that can serve as an example for other jurisdictions considering larger-scale retreat from coastal areas. Following significant damage from Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Woodbridge applied to participate in the New Jersey Blue Acres Buyout Program. With the support of the state, local elected officials in Woodbridge, including the mayor, committed to a community-based approach and prioritized flood mitigation and future safety and emergency management benefits over potential tax base losses if residents relocated outside of the township. As a result of this approach and an extensive community engagement process, nearly 200 property owners accepted a buyout offer. Once structures are demolished, the township is restoring bought-out land to create a natural flood buffer. The township established an Open Space Conservation/Resiliency Zone to institutionalize protections for this area by prohibiting new development and discouraging redevelopment. Woodbridge’s example demonstrates how comprehensive, community-based approaches to buyouts can maximize long-term benefits for communities and the environment. Other local governments can consider partnering with their states and residents, among others, to use buyouts as a retreat strategy to make communities more resilient. This case study is one of 17 case studies featured in a report written by the Georgetown Climate Center, Managing the Retreat from Rising Seas: Lessons and Tools from 17 Case Studies.

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Managing the Retreat from Rising Seas — City of Austin, Texas: Flood Risk Reduction Buyout Projects

July 15, 2020

The City of Austin, Texas has adopted a model to provide consistent relocation benefits for voluntary home buyouts in the city’s floodplains as a part of its “flood risk reduction projects.” In addition to the cost of a person’s original home, the city will provide homeowners with moving and closing costs, and a replacement housing payment if the cost of a new comparable home (located outside of the city’s 100-year floodplain) is more than the original home. This policy encourages owner participation in the buyout program and helps to minimize the economic and social costs of relocation. The city’s Watershed Protection Department prioritizes buyouts in accordance with a Watershed Protection Master Plan that strategically guides related city actions, including potential buyouts, to reduce the risks associated with erosion, flooding, and poor water quality. A mix of municipal bonds, federal grants, and local funds (primarily through a drainage fee paid by owners of properties based upon impervious surface cover) have been used to fund the buyouts. Austin’s example is noteworthy for its emphasis on implementing buyouts in accordance with a comprehensive flood mitigation program and facilitating transitions for people located in floodplains through relocation assistance. Other jurisdictions considering managed retreat could implement an interdisciplinary buyout approach across different sectors and government agencies (e.g., floodplain and emergency management and housing and community development). .

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Managing the Retreat from Rising Seas — Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Maryland: Blackwater 2100

2013

In 2013, The Conservation Fund, National Audubon Society, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service partnered to produce a “salt marsh persistence” report for Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) titled Blackwater 2100 to address marsh migration in response to sea-level rise and tidal erosion. The objectives of the report are to identify areas of current tidal marsh most resilient to sea-level rise and of the highest value to salt marsh bird species as well as future locations that may support marsh migration corridors. The report’s authors utilized several tools, including the Sea-Level Rise Affecting Marshes Model (SLAMM), to select one of three different adaptation strategies for wetland areas within Blackwater NWR to create a comprehensive management plan. The three adaptation strategies include: (1) in-place restoration actions targeted at improving existing tidal marsh health and productivity; (2) strategic conservation in priority marsh migration corridors; and (3) actions supporting the transition of uplands into marsh. Blackwater 2100 can provide a useful example for natural resources, open space, and coastal managers to plan for minimizing coastal habitat loss due to sea-level rise by evaluating the tradeoffs of different adaptation strategies; and building partnerships with stakeholder groups and the community to examine marsh migration on an ecosystem scale that necessitates public and private land acquisitions and involvement. This case study is one of 17 case studies featured in a report written by the Georgetown Climate Center, Managing the Retreat from Rising Seas: Lessons and Tools from 17 Case Studies.

Related Organizations: National Audubon Society, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)

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Managing the Retreat from Rising Seas — Queens, New York: Resilient Edgemere Community Plan

July 15, 2020

After Hurricane Sandy, New York City (NYC) engaged in a community-driven planning process and implemented multiple voluntary relocation projects in the Edgemere neighborhood of Queens to reduce flood risks and move people out of harm’s way after Hurricane Sandy. The NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) launched the Resilient Edgemere Community Planning Initiative in October 2015 as a collaboration between city agencies, community members, elected officials, and local organizations. The Resilient Edgemere Community Plan lays out a long-term vision for achieving a more resilient neighborhood with improved housing, transportation access, and neighborhood amenities. One of the 65 distinct projects included in the plan was a “land swap” pilot project to provide buyout and relocation assistance to residents within a “Hazard Mitigation Zone” (HMZ), an area of Edgemere at risk of destructive wave action during storms. Through the land swap pilot project, Edgemere residents within a HMZ were eligible to receive a newly built, elevated home on safer ground. In exchange, residents would transfer title of their damaged, original homes to the city. The plan is notable for being developed through an 18-month public engagement process that placed residents, who best understand their community, at the center of an open and transparent neighborhood planning process. Resilient Edgemere can provide an example of how local governments can transition affected residents away from vulnerable areas by helping people relocate nearby and simultaneously build community resilience and help to maintain community cohesion and local tax bases. This case study is one of 17 case studies featured in a report written by the Georgetown Climate Center, Managing the Retreat from Rising Seas: Lessons and Tools from 17 Case Studies.

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Managing the Retreat from Rising Seas — San Diego, California: ReWild Mission Bay

July 15, 2020

In San Diego, California, the city and various stakeholders are evaluating different land-use and planning alternatives to conserve and restore migrating wetlands in Mission Bay as a part of local decisionmaking processes. To conserve and restore Mission Bay, San Diego Audubon and other partners started an initiative called “ReWild Mission Bay” that evaluated different alternatives for protecting wetlands through a feasibility study. One of the feasibility study’s alternatives aims to relocate Campland on the Bay, an existing RV campground on land owned by the city, inland. By moving Campland on the Bay inland, the city could address wetland migration while providing community resilience and environmental benefits. The alternative to relocate the location for Campland on the Bay, if implemented, would be aligned with and build on other local planning efforts to convert a part of the surrounding Mission Bay Park into a regional amenity that accommodates both public and private uses. In July 2019, the San Diego City Council approved a lease extension and expansion for Campland on the Bay that has delayed any potential implementation of the ReWild Mission Bay wetland alternatives until after the term of the lease expires. The ongoing work in Mission Bay can serve as an example for other coastal jurisdictions addressing the tradeoffs raised in land-use and planning efforts for coastal retreat and the challenges that can arise in balancing competing stakeholder interests to achieve both human and environmental priorities. ReWild Mission Bay also shows how nongovernmental stakeholders can conduct planning processes to help government agencies make decisions about long-term land uses and restoration activities. This case study is one of 17 case studies featured in a report written by the Georgetown Climate Center, Managing the Retreat from Rising Seas: Lessons and Tools from 17 Case Studies.

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Managing the Retreat from Rising Seas — Harris County, Texas: Flood Control District Local Buyout Program

July 15, 2020

Harris County, Texas established a voluntary home buyout program through the regional government agency, the Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD), that can serve as an example for other local jurisdictions considering retreat from coastal and riverine flood-prone areas. The buyout program is focused on risk reduction and flood mitigation best practices, where once bought out, properties are returned to open space uses to restore their natural beneficial flood retention functions. HCFCD has developed an effective communication and outreach strategy to educate the public and encourage program participation. Historically, properties have been acquired with grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Hazard Mitigation Assistance program, Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant program, and local funding from a dedicated ad valorem property tax (i.e., a tax based on a property’s assessed value). Other state, regional, and local jurisdictions considering managed retreat could implement a similar comprehensive buyout model that operates in both a pre- and post-disaster context to reduce flood risks and engages the community throughout the entire process. This case study is one of 17 case studies featured in a report written by the Georgetown Climate Center, Managing the Retreat from Rising Seas: Lessons and Tools from 17 Case Studies.

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Managing the Retreat from Rising Seas — New York City, New York: Land Acquisition and Flood Buyout Programs

July 15, 2020

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYC DEP) offers flood mitigation buyouts within the NYC watershed, in cooperation with the state, through a Flood Buyout Program that can serve as a model for other coastal and riverine jurisdictions considering retreat. These buyouts are part of a comprehensive flood hazard mitigation program that relies on scientific studies termed Local Flood Analyses (LFA). LFA enable NYC DEP to identify solutions to reduce flooding, which may involve buyouts, and then to fund and implement recommended projects. NYC DEP’s buyouts are primarily funded by local sewer and water bills and may be supplemented by grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Notably, NYC DEP administers a Land Acquisition Program — in addition to its Flood Buyout Program — with a focus on conserving land within the NYC watershed to protect water quality. This dual approach to both buyouts to mitigate flood risk and open space acquisitions to enhance water quality is a unique model that other state and local governments can replicate to achieve co-benefits through land acquisitions. Collectively, NYC’s multiple programs and projects can provide an example for other land-use planners and decisionmakers on how managed retreat through buyouts can be supported through a science-based, comprehensive approach that aims to maximize floodplain hazard mitigation and community resilience. This case study is one of 17 case studies featured in a report written by the Georgetown Climate Center, Managing the Retreat from Rising Seas: Lessons and Tools from 17 Case Studies.

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Managing the Retreat from Rising Seas — Long Beach, California: Los Cerritos Wetlands Restoration and Land Swap

July 15, 2020

The Los Cerritos Wetlands Oil Consolidation and Restoration Project (project) provides an example of how public-private land swap arrangements can be aligned with environmental restoration and protection plans, and used to advance long-term visions for managed retreat. The Los Cerritos Wetlands Complex, located in Long Beach, California, has faced decades of degradation from human activities and development. Much of this remaining wetlands area is privately owned and used to conduct oil operations. The proposed project would transfer 154 acres of privately owned wetlands to public ownership as part of a land swap arrangement. Specifically, as a part of the land swap, the 154 acres currently used for oil production will be exchanged for five acres of wetlands currently owned by the Los Cerritos Wetlands Authority. The land swap will facilitate restoration of a major portion of the wetlands via a mitigation bank, increase public access, and reduce the oil production footprint and consolidate operations. The land swap plan also involves a number of environmental and social tradeoffs, however. These considerations can provide lessons and recommendations for other local governments studying land swaps as a legal tool to facilitate retreat in coastal areas. This case study is one of 17 case studies featured in a report written by the Georgetown Climate Center, Managing the Retreat from Rising Seas: Lessons and Tools from 17 Case Studies.

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Big Sur Land Trust—Carmel River Floodplain Restoration and Environmental Enhancement Project (Carmel FREE)

January 2020

The Big Sur Land Trust in partnership with the County of Monterey is leading implementation of the Carmel River Floodplain Restoration and Environmental Enhancement (Carmel FREE) project that will restore habitat and reduce flood risks in the lower Carmel River watershed. The project will use nature-based approaches to reduce flood risks to nearby properties by restoring the natural river corridor and habitats. Old levees in need of maintenance along the River will be removed to allow restoration of the natural floodplain, which will improve water quality and habitats, and recharge groundwater. A new causeway bridge for Highway 1 will be built to restore hydrological connectivity and facilitate restoration of wetlands on the project site that are adjacent to the Carmel Lagoon. Additionally, new trails will be constructed throughout the project site to create recreational amenities for residents. These activities are anticipated to restore approximately 100 acres of wetlands and other habitats delivering environmental benefits and also enhancing flood resilience from sea-level rise and more frequent storms for businesses and residents in the Carmel Valley. This project demonstrates how public-private partnerships with land trusts can be used to facilitate land acquisitions and support ecosystem-based restoration projects. 

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Making California’s Coast Resilient to Sea-Level Rise: Principles for Aligned State Action

April 2020

Co-developed by numerous state and regional agencies, Making California’s Coast Resilient to Sea-Level Rise: Principles for Aligned State Action is an outline of six principles for coordinated planning and adaptation around sea-level rise (SLR) in the state of California. The principles call for all supporting agencies to adopt a minimum SLR estimate of 3.5 feet by 2050. This assumption aligns with concerns expressed in the 2009 California Climate Adaptation Strategy that SLR will occur more quickly and severely than had originally been anticipated (new estimates anticipate California’s SLR reaching 7 feet or more by 2100). The principles include goals and objectives for agencies to implement resilience projects; use high-quality science; build resilience-based partnerships and communication networks; align policies across agencies; and support local resilience efforts. The guidelines aim to ensure that all of the state’s management, decisionmaking, and regulatory activities are “guided by a common, clear, and fundamental vision” to increase California’s coastal resilience and better adapt and prepare for climate change impacts.

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