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New York State Resilient NY Flood Mitigation Studies, Buyouts, and Floodplain Restoration Projects

2018

Multiple serious flood events, hurricanes, and storms have prompted New York State’s (NYS) Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to develop a range of mitigation and adaptation initiatives to address future flood hazards and improve community resilience. The state is completing a series of Flood and Ice Jam Mitigation Studies within 48 high-priority watersheds across New York State - as a part of an initiative called Resilient NY - to identify the causes of flooding and ice jams and to evaluate priority mitigation projects, like buyouts, to reduce risks. New York’s example is noteworthy for selecting buyouts as part of a comprehensive flood-risk mitigation analysis as a result of Flood and Ice Jam Mitigation Studies, compared to other buyout programs that utilize standalone eligibility criteria based on existing floodplain maps (e.g., a property is eligible for buyouts based on flood zones). Where buyouts are identified as a priority option to mitigate future flood risk, DEC can work with local governments through a unique partnership to remove structures from vulnerable areas and restore floodplains. Specifically, the state can oversee and provide support for locally led and administered buyout programs that can be applied across the state’s watersheds. This data-driven, state-local approach to buyouts can serve as a model for other jurisdictions considering buyouts and floodplain restoration as managed retreat strategies at the community level that would benefit from statewide consistency, assistance, and resources.

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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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Louisiana Land Trust Resettlement Projects

In Louisiana, a state-created land trust is supporting floodplain buyouts and helping families relocate out of vulnerable flood-prone areas. The Louisiana Land Trust (LLT) was created in 2005 to support buyouts after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. After more recent flood events, LLT expanded its role to help communities relocate to safer, higher ground areas. The land trust is helping to facilitate the resettlement of residents of the Pecan Acres subdivision in Pointe Coupee Parish and the Isle de Jean Charles community in Terrebonne Parish. The Pecan Acres subdivision is located in a lower-income neighborhood north of the City of New Roads, and has experienced repeated flooding 17 times over the past 20 years. LLT is working to help resettle approximately 40 households within the subdivision by acquiring their flood-prone properties, and supporting a development on higher ground where they can relocate. Isle de Jean Charles is a narrow island in South Terrebonne parish and is the home of the Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha Confederation of Muskogees and United Houma Nation tribes. The island has lost 98% of its land mass since 1955 and many residents have left as a result of increasing flooding, where encroaching seas often flood the only roadway connecting the island to the mainland. With funding from the National Disaster Resilience Competition, the state is working to support implementation of a tribal resettlement plan. LLT acquired the resettlement site, about 40 miles north of the island that will be redeveloped. Eligible and participating families and individuals will be offered properties on the site with a five-year forgivable mortgage. Both the Pecan Acres and Isle de Jean Charles resettlement developments will incorporate resilient and green design features (including elevation about FEMA minimum standards, LEED certified construction, green infrastructure, and community amenities like parks) and will enable the residents to relocate together, maintaining social bonds and cohesion. This example demonstrates how land trusts can support efforts to relocate whole communities, and support development of sustainable and resilient receiving communities.

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Managing the Retreat from Rising Seas — State of Louisiana: Louisiana Strategic Adaptations for Future Environments (LA SAFE)

July 15, 2020

Louisiana Strategic Adaptations for Future Environments (LA SAFE) is a community-based planning and capital investment process that will help the state fund and implement several projects, including for managed retreat, to make its coasts more resilient. In 2016, Louisiana’s Office for Community Development–Disaster Recovery Unit received a nearly $40 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development through the National Disaster Resilience Competition and additional state and nongovernmental funds to implement LA SAFE. The grant will support the design and implementation of resilience projects to address impacts in six coastal parishes that were affected by Hurricane Isaac in 2012. The state partnered with the nonprofit Foundation for Louisiana to administer LA SAFE and facilitate an extensive, year-long community engagement process that will result in implementation of ten funded projects across the six parishes. By contemplating a regional, rather than a parish-specific, approach to addressing coastal risk, LA SAFE provides a model that other states and local governments may consider when making long-term adaptation and resilience investments, including for managed retreat. 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 — Hampton, New Hampshire: Community-Driven Climate Adaptation Planning Process

July 15, 2020

The coastal town of Hampton, New Hampshire has identified the need for long-term climate adaptation planning to address the impacts of sea-level rise and improve community resilience to coastal flooding through a state-local, public-private partnership. This ongoing adaptation planning process that started in 2018 is being led by the Seabrook–Hamptons Estuary Alliance (SHEA) — a local conservation nonprofit — with support from others including the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services Coastal Program (NH Coastal Program) and town officials and staff. The approach taken by SHEA and the NH Coastal Program offers a unique example of community-driven, multifaceted planning focused on informing and educating the community through a series of workshops and surveys to gauge awareness and opinions across a range of different adaptation strategies. The adaptation strategies presented to the community for consideration include: protection (“keep water out”), accommodation (“live with water”), and managed retreat or relocation (“get out of the water’s way”). The results of these efforts are being used to inform local actions going forward. Policymakers and planners in other municipalities may find Hampton’s work instructive for how to increase awareness of the benefits and tradeoffs of retreat across a spectrum of adaptation strategies at the outset of community-driven, public-private decisionmaking processes. 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 — Staten Island, New York: Oakwood Beach Buyout Committee and Program

July 15, 2020

Following Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Oakwood Beach on Staten Island in New York City became the first community to take advantage of New York State’s post-Sandy buyout program to plan for retreat in a model that could be replicated in other vulnerable coastal locations. The members of the small community formed the Oakwood Beach Buyout Committee, and petitioned the state government to buy out entire neighborhoods, which resulted in large-scale risk reduction and cost-saving benefits compared to individual buyouts. Less than three months after Sandy, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a state-funded buyout program, pledging upwards of $200 million in funding and financial incentives to relocate families in high flood risk areas in places like Oakwood Beach. One year later, 184 out of 185 homeowners applied to the program — and by 2015, 180 of those homeowners were accepted to participate in the state’s voluntary buyout program. This process can serve as an example of a successful, community-led voluntary buyout effort that can be supported by state and local government retreat programs or projects in other jurisdictions. 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 — 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.

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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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