Greauxing Resilience at Home: A Regional Vision

Objective 5.4:

Support and sustain regional governance structures and peer-to-peer learning networks inside and outside of Region Seven and Louisiana.

The Need

Flooding and population shifts are increasingly becoming cross-boundary issues that parishes and municipalities cannot adequately address individually. This can lead to social, fiscal, and economic challenges like funding and capacity constraints. 

Currently in Louisiana, there is a lack of administrative infrastructure to create and support regional intergovernmental structures or mechanisms to promote cross-jurisdictional collaboration at the intersection of housing, flooding, and population shifts with the goal of increasing resilience. The Louisiana Watershed Initiative was established to address some of these issues by creating eight regional watershed bodies throughout the state. However, these regions are only just getting started. Further, as evidenced by this Regional Vision, there is a lot of work to be done that can benefit from this type of networking and outreach.    

Establishing regional entities and networks can create opportunities for regional planning, identifying regional priorities, and leveraging funding and other resources to implement solutions that are cross-jurisdictional. Policymakers should structure regional entities and networks in ways that increase efficiency and coordination without increasing delays or complicated processes that hinder potential benefits for communities and the environment. While certain regional coordination may be legally mandated, simply meeting the legal requirement to establish regional networks may not be enough. Regional mechanisms that support collaboration can be a more effective way to address these issues in comparison to jurisdictions and communities addressing them alone. This objective focuses on collaboration for internal governance structures. Objective 5.5 discusses opportunities for governments to pursue other types of collaborative partnerships outside of regional governance structures, which includes creating public-private-nonprofit-community partnerships. 

How to Make Progress on This Objective

When evaluating potential opportunities to create regional governance structures and networks, there are two primary ways that these entities can be created through:

  • New state authorities; and
  • Other types of local agreements

Local governments can evaluate either or both opportunities where they exist. Regional entities and networks can be established to address geographically or temporally limited projects and/or broader, more evergreen issues or topics with transboundary impacts like housing, flooding, and population changes.

New State Authorities

Via statute or executive order, states can either mandate or give local governments the optional authority to establish regional governance structures. 

States can prescribe times when local governments have to work together to create regional strategies to greaux resilience. An example of a regional entity mandated by a state is the Louisiana Watershed Initiative. In May 2018, Governor Edwards issued an executive order, which initiated the development and implementation of a watershed-based floodplain management strategy for the state of Louisiana. The executive order called for several state agencies to form the Council on Watershed Management and develop a program that would support a watershed-based regional approach to floodplain management. Accordingly, the Council developed the Louisiana Watershed Initiative and established eight Watershed Regions within the state that work within their regions to coordinate local governments and manage flood risk. This regional entity is a starting point for regional planning in Louisiana to successfully implement cross-jurisdictional resilience solutions. 

For legally mandated regional entities, simply meeting minimum legal requirements may not be enough to create meaningful solutions for communities. Aside from what a law says, regional entities should set a clear direction and develop concrete goals, objectives, values, and strategies around an aligned vision to achieve those requirements.

In addition to explicit mandates, some states have passed optional legal authorities that allow local governments the opportunity to develop regional entities to achieve discrete or broad purposes. One example comes from Maryland. In May 2020, Maryland passed a law that enables local governments to establish and fund a Resilience Authority. A Resilience Authority allows a local jurisdiction to flexibly organize funding structures for and manage large-scale infrastructure projects specifically aimed at addressing the effects of climate change, including sea-level rise, flooding, increased precipitation, erosion, and heatwaves. Notably, Resilience Authorities can be created by individual local governments or more than one county in Maryland to fund infrastructure investments and facilitate climate adaptation on a regional scale. 

Additionally, in August 2019, New Hampshire passed New Hampshire Senate Bill 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. The law allows municipalities to either alter their existing boundaries or create a new municipality by combining existing ones. The law also enables 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. This law provides an example of an innovative state law supporting local governments to overcome governance challenges when adapting to environmental and climate 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. 

In comparison to legally mandated regional entities, these types of optional authorities can offer local governments the flexibility necessary to build cross-jurisdictional structures that meet their specific needs. In contrast, the former regional structures may come with more government support and direction that can call increased attention to and lend more credibility and resources to reinforce their development. The tradeoffs of different approaches should be evaluated as a part of regional governance discussions for resilience.

Other Types of Regional Collaboration

Outside of legal authorities, a regional governance entity or network can also come together and be formalized on its own through different types of interlocal agreements. These entities and networks can be established through formal legal instruments, like memoranda of agreement or understanding, or informal commitments to address shared or cross-boundary goals. These types of entities can support peer-to-peer learning and promote collaboration on solving regional issues. 

Participating jurisdictions may have the ability to choose the purpose and goal of a regional entity, which can provide a level of flexibility to members on what they would like to accomplish. For example, the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact represents a joint commitment of multiple Florida counties to collaborate and partner across county lines to provide a vision and framework for regional resilience. The compact calls for the counties to work cooperatively to develop annual legislative programs and jointly advocate for state and federal policies and funding; dedicate staff time and resources to create a Southeast Florida Regional Climate Action Plan to include mitigation and adaptation strategies; and meet annually in Regional Climate Summits to mark progress and identify emerging issues.

Despite these benefits, these regional options are similar tradeoffs to pursuing approaches to regional governance. Without a legal mandate, a regional entity or network may lack clear direction. Thus, at the start, regional structures should be crafted with careful consideration given to who is invited to join (e.g., a mix of state representatives and community organizations or a mix of state representatives and local government representatives) and what are the purpose, goals, and objectives (e.g., completing projects or peer-learning networks).   

Crosscutting Considerations and Practice Tips

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to establishing a regional entity. ​​Decisionmakers may consider the following crosscutting considerations and practice tips that apply to creating regional entities:

  • Build your network 
  • Build regional capacity 
  • Coordinate across regions 
  • Facilitate opportunities for local knowledge sharing 
  • Establish clear organizational and leadership structures
  • Set organizational and meeting goals
  • Create incentives for regional participants to stay engaged
  • Dedicate enough time and resources to sustain regional entities
  • Engage with and learn from regional governance structures over the long term

These tips are based on priority implementation best practices and considerations most relevant to this specific objective and do not present an exhaustive list for regional and local planners and policymakers. 

It is important to acknowledge that every jurisdiction will be starting from a different place and have a unique local context and needs, among other factors. Therefore, these considerations and practice tips could be adopted individually, collectively, or not at all. It will be up to policymakers to work directly with their communities and other key stakeholders and partners to assess and determine potential tools and approaches to implement this goal and objective.

Before creating a new cross-jurisdictional entity or entering into any type of agreement, policymakers should consult with their legal counsel to ensure they have the authority for said entity and/or to enter into such an agreement. Moreover, if a state has a legal mandate to create a regional entity, there may be opportunities for that state’s executive or legislative branch to increase that authority in response to local needs. Where a given legal mandate or authority does not already exist, a local jurisdiction can initiate this conversation at the state level. At a minimum, any actions should comply with state and local law. 

  • Build your network: At the start of creating a regional entity, it is important to build a diverse network that represents the breadth of affected government and community interests. This network should be inclusive of communities and individuals who are most impacted, such as low-income, BIPOC, differently abled, elderly, etc., by the challenges that the work is seeking to address. For example, in the context of flooding, it is important to include more urbanized parishes with more access to resources in addition to rural ones with a smaller tax base.  
  • Build regional capacity: A regional entity should create a space where members have the capacity to guide and participate in the conversations. The regional entity should lean on existing regional and local knowledge and leadership and provide the option of having or training local community leaders to facilitate and lead discussions on regional issues and solutions if needed. For example, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Community Rating System (CRS) is a voluntary program that incentivizes floodplain management practices that reduce local flood risk. Parish and municipal governments participating, or considering participation, in the CRS program can join existing or start new CRS User Groups to achieve benefits for flood mitigation through peer-learning opportunities to adapt to intensifying flood risks, while finding new ways to save residents money on flood insurance.

    Louisiana has four CRS User Groups, one of which is the Capital Region Area Floodplain Task Force (CRAFT). CRAFT is composed of representatives of a number of communities within or the surrounding Baton Rouge metropolitan area. The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, and Insurance Services Office, Inc. (ISO)/CRS Specialists are often in attendance at CRAFT meetings, which are held monthly. Another CRS User Group is the Flood Loss Outreach and Awareness Task Force (FLOAT). The Lake Pontchartrain Louisiana Area FLOAT group has focused its efforts on increasing outreach to the public regarding flood preparation across the southeast region of Louisiana. FLOAT has assembled the outreach activities of its twelve member jurisdictions into a single coordinated multi-jurisdictional PPI, in turn avoiding a strain on resources for individual communities undertaking this effort alone. Both FLOAT and CRAFT are facilitated by The University of New Orleans’s Center for Hazards Assessment, Response, and Technology.  

    It is not mandatory to join a CRS User Group to participate in the CRS program, yet these regional members realized the benefits of peer learning and networking. This regional entity is a good example of bringing multiple perspectives to the table from different government and nongovernmental entities. When there is capacity built and space created for different voices, productive discussions about regional issues can take place. 

    Beyond building the capacity of local government staffers through programs such as CRS, it is also critical to build the capacity of community-based organizations to engage in discussions around climate change, flood, risk, and the relationship from local to regional scales. Communities, especially underinvested communities, have an intimate understanding of their challenges and when provided access to additional information, investment, and training, can develop more holistic solutions. One example of this is the LEAD the Coast program hosted by Foundation for Louisiana, which trained local community members to be facilitators of discussions for LA SAFE. The long-lasting impacts of this program have, in part, inspired local leaders to run for office, start their own community-based organizations, testify in front of Congress, and successfully advocate for their communities’ issues as well as be at the tables where decisions are made that impact them.  
  • Coordinate across regions: As climate change and coastal hazards increase in frequency and intensity, local governments and particularly smaller municipalities may have an increasing need to evaluate regional models for the purpose of administering or supporting either select or multiple government functions. States may also consider developing inter-state regional approaches. In addition, states can provide different types of support for intra-state regional efforts at the local level, including through technical and funding assistance and amending existing or creating new laws to meet regional governance needs. If there is no legal mandate to create a regional entity, regions can enter into informal, non-binding agreements (e.g., memoranda of understanding or agreement) to better guide and coordinate the actions of individual municipalities to achieve mutual benefits and shared outcomes (e.g., Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact). 
  • Facilitate opportunities for local knowledge sharing: If regions choose to work together to implement solutions, it may be beneficial for each region to coordinate site visits and host the other regions before a plan or project begins. It is important for regions to understand the local context of the communities in the regions they are coordinating with. Though in-person visits may not always be feasible due to distance, resources, busy schedules, etc., if possible, hosting regional representatives can promote better interpersonal and more authentic and meaningful professional ties and connections. Conducting these site visits is especially relevant where jurisdictions share boundaries for plans or projects in housing or flooding especially with infrastructure and nature-based projects or conservation. 
  • Establish clear organizational and leadership structures: At the outset, regional organizers should clearly establish the organizational and leadership structures of an entity or a network. When the federal or state governments draft mandates or expectations for the creation of regional entities, guidance should be co-designed with the regions and established prior to the development of the final structure. These structures should be relevant to achieve the stated purpose of the body or network and also ensure diverse and equitable representation, including a wide array of stakeholders within and outside of government. At a minimum, it is important to define the role each member has as a participant in the said entity or network. This will help determine who will execute specific tasks, such as leading meetings, facilitating discussion, applying for funding opportunities, and coordinating with external partners. Establishing accountability measures will also help ensure that the organizational structure remains effective. Leaders of the network should be involved, updated regularly, and provide support to activities of the regional entity or network. In addition, leaders should contribute to attaining all the other crosscutting considerations listed for this objective. 
  • Set organizational and meeting goals: The success of a regional entity or network may be determined by how it is structured and organized and whether it sets achievable and meaningful goals. A regional entity or network should be clear in its goals and objectives, and have a way to make sure that as time progresses, the network is moving towards achieving those stated goals and objectives. It is important to hold consistent meetings (e.g., weekly, monthly, bi-monthly, etc.) and keep members updated about barriers and progress. 
  • Create incentives for regional participants to stay engaged: Generally, regional entities and networks offer many positive opportunities and incentives for participants. One of the greatest benefits is to plan for, fund, and implement cross-boundary projects. Regional projects based on collaborative governance and planning may even be more competitive than projects coming from a single jurisdiction that do not fully address the scale of impacts like flooding or population changes.

    In addition to or outside of acquiring new funding, policymakers can draw on other non-financial benefits like distributing planning, administrative, and project costs; building beneficial professional relationships; co-designing concepts and strategies together, sharing and leveraging ideas, experiences, and expertise; supporting social and environmental change; and acquiring, managing, and analyzing data. For example, in 2019, the Rappahannock-Rapidan Regional Commission received a community impact grant from Virginia Housing to conduct a regional housing study for the Virginia counties of Culpeper Fauquier, Madison, Orange, and Rappahannock, and the towns of Culpeper, Gordonsville, Madison, Orange, Remington, Plains, Warrenton, and Washington.See footnote 1 The goals of the study were to: (1) provide data to understand housing challenges in the region; (2) analyze regional land-use practices and zoning ordinances; and (3) provide recommendations.See footnote 2 The housing study balances the need to advance a regional housing strategy, while also understanding the specific challenges, needs, and history in each county and municipality. 

    The regional entity should engage with all members and make sure all voices and perspectives are heard and represented. A key part of creating and sustaining both regional governance structures and networks will involve thinking about how to incentivize the participation of those at the table. It is important to evaluate what motivates the regional entity to keep working together and participating, especially where entities are established outside of a formal legal mandate or agreement. The leaders of these groups will have to consider what are the benefits and measures of accountability. This may include considerations, such as having only specific categories of members (e.g., only state-level representatives or only county-level representatives) because it may create a more comfortable space for members for idea sharing, or having a concrete goal (e.g., applying for a funding opportunity, creating or managing a project, or development of a regional strategy) that the whole entity is working towards achieving rather than just establishing a peer-learning network. Entities must continuously evaluate these types of considerations and be prepared to shift methods if certain efforts are not effective in achieving the goals of the entity or members are not motivated to participate. 
  • Dedicate enough time and resources to sustain regional entities: It takes time and effort to create and sustain effective regional entities and networks and build trust among members. Many regional entities and networks will also hope to grow over time, whether that be through the amount or type of members, expanding goals and objectives, or increasing the types or numbers of targeted projects. Thus, it should be a priority to allocate staffing and financial resources to maintain an established network. In tandem, parishes and municipalities should evaluate how local elected officials and agency heads can support government staff participation in these regional forums from providing them with official support to allowing for staff travel reimbursements to neighboring locations to hosting meetings in their own jurisdictions. Parishes and municipalities can also pursue external funding and facilitation opportunities through partnerships with nonprofits, universities, and others to help stand up and maintain regional entities and networks. 
  • Engage with and learn from regional governance structures over the long term: Once regional governance entity goals are achieved (e.g., a law, policy, plan, or project is implemented), practitioners should continue to engage with members. It is important for practitioners to maintain these partnerships and to continue to learn from the work of their partners. Practitioners should strive to stay up-to-date on the latest in terms of housing and flooding issues, including through regional networks and peer-learning opportunities. 

The summaries below highlight resources and case studies available in Georgetown Climate Center’s Adaptation Clearinghouse that are relevant to this objective. They illustrate how many of the above benefits, practice tips, and planning, legal, and policy tools were or are being evaluated and used in practice in different jurisdictions. To learn more and navigate to the Adaptation Clearinghouse, click on the “View Resource” buttons.


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