Managed Retreat Toolkit

Acquisition Tools

Given the amount of privately owned land throughout most of the United States,See footnote 1 particularly on the coast, state and local governments that adopt managed retreat strategies should evaluate opportunities to use land acquisition powers to transfer more land to public ownership. Publicly owned, compared to privately owned land, can be held for the benefit of communities and the environment. Land acquisitions can occur through either the purchase of properties in fee simple or development rights (to part of or an entire property) through easements. Acquisition tools can require the expenditure of public and private funds (buyouts and open space acquisitions) and/or the in-kind exchange of land (land swaps). 

Acquisition tools should be conceived of and communicated as one part of a comprehensive managed retreat strategy to facilitate the transition of people and coastal ecosystems away from vulnerable areas. By linking acquisitions with other tools (e.g., planning, regulatory, market-based), decisionmakers can minimize the social disruption of acquisitions and maximize economic, environmental, and social benefits by restoring acquired lands. This toolkit presents examples of how state and local governments and nongovernmental partners are implementing different buyout and acquisition tools to achieve these outcomes. Governments and residents should evaluate and address the tradeoffs that come with land acquisitions at the outset of climate adaptation and retreat decisionmaking efforts. For purposes of this section and the toolkit, all acquisition tools are presented as voluntary acquisitions in contrast to eminent domain. While eminent domain is a legally feasible option state and local decisionmakers may consider for purposes of effectuating managed retreat, it is not likely a politically viable adaptation strategy, particularly for residential areas. 

This section will introduce five types of acquisition tools that state and local coastal governments could include — one, a few, or all — as part of a comprehensive managed retreat strategy.

Large-scale flooding, known as the “Halloween Flood of 2013,” in Austin’s Onion Creek neighborhood. Credit: Watershed Protection Department, City of Austin.


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