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From Newtok to Mertarvik: A Native Alaskan Tribal Village Relocation

Several tribal villages in Alaska are facing impending community-wide climate impacts of permafrost degradation, sea level rise, erosion, and flooding  which require immediate adaptation measures, including the potential of managed retreat. However, only one, the Village of Newtok, is in the process of actively relocating to a new site, Mertarvik, which was conveyed to Newtok through a federal land grant. The Newtok team  composed of federal, state, and local tribal representatives  is prioritizing the development of housing, roads, energy, and an evacuation center in the near-term. The project goal is to relocate everyone in Newtok to Mertarvik by 2023. The Newtok relocation has been funded by a patchwork of federal and state agencies for over 20 years. This case study can highlight one approach and ongoing lessons learned for state and local jurisdictions confronting larger-scale questions about managed retreat, and the process of transitioning entire communities to higher ground. 

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Quileute Tribe of La Push Relocation, Washington State

The federally recognized Quileute Tribe of La Push in northwest Washington is implementing a phased approach to managed retreat in response to climate change impacts of sea-level rise, increased flooding, and storm surge from tsunamis. Specifically, the Tribe is seeking to relocate its school, senior center, government buildings, and future housing above the Tribe’s one-square-mile reservation on the Pacific coast, currently at sea level. The Quileute Tribe’s community engagement processes and planning strategies may provide transferable lessons for other state and local jurisdictions considering similar questions of coastal retreat. 

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Post-Disaster Community Investments in Lumberton Through the North Carolina State Acquisition and Relocation Fund for Buyout Relocation Assistance

2020

Lumberton, North Carolina provides one example of how state funding for relocation assistance can help support local buyouts and community investments in underserved areas. In 2016, the small community of Lumberton was devastated by Hurricane Matthew when the Lumber River flooded over 870 households, as well as a number of businesses. As the city was beginning to recover, only two years later, Lumberton was hit a second time by Hurricane Florence, resulting in damage to over 500 structures. As of 2019, Lumberton is seeking to leverage several grants and funding programs, including North Carolina’s State Acquisition and Relocation Fund (SARF), to rebuild the community and provide residents with relocation assistance to obtain new homes in Lumberton through a state-local partnership. Specifically, with funding from SARF, the local government is considering opportunities to invest in new homes in one existing, but underserved neighborhood of Lumberton that can offer safer homes for bought-out residents. As SARF and the ongoing work in Lumberton demonstrate, state and local governments can support voluntary, post-disaster transitions of people and minimize negative impacts to individuals, communities, and local tax bases from buyouts by reinvesting in underserved areas within their municipalities. 

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U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Disaster Loan Program

The U. S. Small Business Administration (SBA) was established as an independent agency in 1952 with a mission to help Americans start, build, and grow businesses. SBA offers a range of financing and other assistance in a post-disaster context. The SBA Disaster Loan Program supports businesses, private nonprofit organizations, homeowners, and renters located in declared disaster areas by providing affordable, timely, and accessible low-interest, long-term loans for losses not fully covered by insurance or other means.

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USDA NRCS Conservation Easement and Restoration Funding Programs

The U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) offers financial incentives and technical support through multiple programs to public and private landowners aiming to conserve wetlands, agricultural lands, grasslands, and forests through long-term easements. NRCS provides funding opportunities to acquire land for conservation in both a post-disaster and pre-disaster context. All NRCS programs are voluntary and allow working lands owners to be compensated for conserving their lands. These programs and easements can increase local resilience to climate change by improving water quality, reducing soil erosion, and enhancing wildlife habitat. Most USDA conservation funding is allocated through the Commodity Credit Corporation and authorized in Farm Bills (about $5.3 billion in Fiscal Year 2018), while other conservation programs - offering mostly technical assistance - are funded by discretionary spending and annual appropriations (about $1 billion annually). 

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USDA NRCS Emergency Watershed Protection Program

The U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) offers an Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) Program to provide both technical and financial assistance to help local communities and individual landowners recover from disaster events that impair a watershed. The EWP Program provides two assistance program options for Recovery and Floodplain Easements. All EWP Program funding is provided to NRCS through Congressional appropriations. EWP Program funding offers the benefit of providing potentially faster and greater geographic coverage support for disaster-impacted communities because while a disaster event is required for eligibility, a presidential disaster declaration is not.

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Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Act of 1970

The Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Act of 1970 (URA) (42 U. S. C. §§ 4621 et seq. (2020); 49 C. F. R. pt. 24 (2020)) is a federal law enacted to provide standard and predictable real property acquisition and relocation expenses for homeowners and tenants of land acquired through eminent domain. URA ensures consistent treatment for people displaced through federal programs or with federal funding. State and local governments can learn and draw from URA when evaluating the amount and types of relocation assistance potentially provided for bought-out homeowners and tenants as a part of comprehensive retreat strategies.

Resource Category: Law and Governance

 

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Annexing and Preparing Higher Ground Receiving Areas in Princeville, North Carolina Through Post-Disaster Recovery Processes

In 2017, the Town of Princeville, North Carolina engaged experts and communities in a long-term, comprehensive planning process to annex a 53-acre parcel of land located outside of the town’s 100-year floodplain to develop a safer, higher ground area where residents, structures, and infrastructure can be relocated. After experiencing flooding impacts from Hurricane Matthew in 2016, Princeville was selected as one of six municipalities in North Carolina to receive technical and funding support from the state through the Hurricane Matthew Disaster Recovery and Resilience Initiative. Princeville provides an example for other municipalities either in a pre-or post-disaster context for how to balance the preservation of original townships while dealing with flooding vulnerabilities, while increasing the resiliency of core community assets and services through adaptation actions. As done in Princeville, local governments may consider options for relocating vulnerable residences and community facilities and services, including by annexing new land where sufficient higher ground land within existing municipal boundaries is not available to reallocate critical land uses and maintain local communities, tax bases, and economies.

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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 — State of New Jersey: Blue Acres Buyout Program

July 15, 2020

The New Jersey Blue Acres Buyout Program is a nationally recognized example of a longstanding, state-run buyout program. Blue Acres works closely with municipalities throughout the state to identify privately owned properties that are routinely threatened or flooded due to sea-level rise and more frequent weather events. The program works directly with local governments to prioritize comprehensive buyouts of affected neighborhoods, instead of individual properties, and restores and protects the properties to maximize the flood and cost-reduction benefits for communities and the environment. To accomplish effective state-local coordination, the program has a diversified staff that meets local needs including case workers who work directly with participants in each buyout area, and a financial team that negotiates mortgage forgiveness with banks and other financial lenders on behalf of homeowners. As climate change worsens and makes extreme weather events more common, other states and local governments may increasingly evaluate the potential for buyouts, particularly in coastal jurisdictions. Decisionmakers could consider institutionalizing buyouts as a part of comprehensive climate adaptation and coastal and floodplain management strategies to encourage neighborhoods to relocate to safer, higher ground areas and restore ecosystems to attain flood, natural resources, and other community benefits.

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