Managed Retreat Toolkit


Given the cross-jurisdictional impacts of sea-level rise, flooding, and land loss, states and local governments may contemplate regional approaches for managed retreat. The need for regional governance structures could be compounded by shifting populations and ecosystems that move from one jurisdiction to another. Notably, if people choose to leave vulnerable coastal areas, those municipalities may suffer losses to their tax bases. This will hinder municipalities’ ability to provide basic and essential services and make sustained investments in their communities (e.g., building and maintaining infrastructure, schools) more difficult. While larger urban municipalities may be able to absorb some or many of the costs associated with these tax transfers, these losses could exacerbate resource inequities in underserved smaller and frontline communities. Compartmentalized governmental structures could also contribute to the insufficient oversight of important shared coastal resources and public assets, which can lead to their deterioration or destruction. In addition, governments will have to meet the needs of “receiving” communities in different jurisdictions.

One potential solution to avoid or mitigate economic, environmental, and social impacts on individual municipalities would be to share the costs of sea-level rise, flooding, and erosion by distributing them across a greater number of people over a larger area.See footnote 1 Regional solutions could be more equitable in addition to better protecting migrating ecosystems and public beaches and coasts. To overcome these challenges, state and especially local governments can consider various approaches for regional governance including:

  • Establishing regional government entities that supplement, but do not displace independent local authorities to administer prescribed government functions like collecting and distributing tax revenues; building, maintaining, and funding cross-jurisdictional investments in infrastructure like roads and drinking and stormwater systems; or implementing tools for larger-scale retreat strategies like buyouts and Transfer of Development Rights programs (e.g., San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission; Maryland Senate Bill 547; Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services Floodplain Buyout Program, North Carolina; Harris County Flood Control District, Texas; King County Transfer of Development Rights Program, Washington State; New Hampshire Senate Bill 285);
  • Altering municipal boundaries either by dissolving and merging independent municipalities together or annexing parts of other municipalities to create consolidated local government units and acquire higher ground land that can serve as receiving areas (e.g., Princeville, North Carolina; Punta Gorda, Florida); 
  • Engaging in regional planning for managed retreat to identify and prioritize coastal adaptation actions and leverage funding and other resources to implement those actions (e.g., Louisiana Strategic Adaptations for Future Environments or “LA SAFE”); or
  • Entering into informal, non-binding agreements (e.g., memoranda of understanding or agreement) or regional collaborations to better guide and coordinate the actions of individual municipalities to achieve mutual benefits and shared outcomes (e.g., Southeast Florida Regional Climate Compact). 

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 for retreat.  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.


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