Managed Retreat Toolkit



Introduction to Planning

Five people of different races and backgrounds sit around a table at a public engagement meeting examining a series of charts.Source: Louisiana Strategic Adaptations for Future Environments (LA SAFE).

Plans are important collaborative tools at all levels of government. Planning initiatives simultaneously help state and local governments prepare their communities for the future while also having the practical effect of establishing frameworks for future collaboration between diverse government agencies and stakeholders. Plans come in a variety of types and sizes at all levels of government and have different spatial and temporal attributes. In addition, some plans may be legally mandated or have legal force or effect, while others may have no particular legal mandate or requirements and are initiated primarily because of the strategic policy benefits they can provide governments. Plans should be developed through highly participatory public processes that provide all interested stakeholders an opportunity to meaningfully engage and inform the plan’s development. Plans often require updates and can evolve as living documents as changes occur, such as with community needs and environmental considerations. 


Planning in a Managed Retreat Context 

The Benefits of Planning

A man and young boy participate in an exercise with at an LA SAFE planning meetingSource: Louisiana Strategic Adaptations for Future Environments (LA SAFE).

Planning will be a critical component of managed retreat strategies for many reasons. These include: (1) plans serving as useful organizational and implementation tools; (2) elevating and encouraging proactive discussions about managed retreat; (3) supporting the phasing of actions over time; and (4) promoting community participation and support. 

First, plans and planning processes can serve as tools to help states and communities evaluate and balance legal and policy tradeoffs for managed retreat and organize and prioritize strategies that inform future implementation actions. There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to managed retreat and governments and residents will have to consider what acquisition, infrastructure, regulatory, and market-based tools, if any, can be adapted to meet state and local needs. In addition, plans can assist governments in identifying more resilient and adaptive investments, particularly for urban development and infrastructure that will be directly impacted by long-term sea-level rise. 

Second, plans can proactively engage stakeholders about managed retreat as a part of comprehensive adaptation processes. Due to the challenges associated with managed retreat, governments and communities have primarily thought about retreat in a post-disaster or reactive hazard mitigation context. As a result, protection and accommodation strategies have historically been prioritized. Importantly, plans can elevate discussions about managed retreat and put it on an equal playing field with protection and accommodation at the start of decisionmaking efforts. This is not to say that managed retreat will always be the best or preferred adaptation strategy, endorsed by community members, or even appropriate given the physical risks facing an area. Nonetheless, by elevating discussions about managed retreat, plans can help maximize benefits (e.g., social, economic, environmental) and minimize costs by bringing a comprehensive suite of adaptation strategies to state and local decisionmaking tables at the outset. Notably, proactive plans can also help policymakers and communities better “manage” retreat over a long period of time. “Unmanaged” retreat can exacerbate historical inequities and environmental degradation and should therefore be avoided, when and where possible, to provide policymakers and community members with an opportunity to evaluate and consider a feasible range of adaptation alternatives (for more discussion, see the Crosscutting Policy Considerations>Community Engagement and Equity section of this toolkit). 

Third, plans can be used to phase implementation actions over time so that governments can better formulate budgets and investments with the timelines associated with physical coastal impacts. Plans can also help governments identify legal and policy changes that must take place before certain actions can be implemented (e.g., state grant of authority to local governments, amend land-use and zoning regulations). In addition, phasing actions can minimize the potential adverse consequences or costs of managed retreat by distributing those costs over extended time periods. For example, if voluntary buyouts are scheduled to occur over a ten- rather than a one-year period, residents may be more willing to participate in buyout programs and support managed retreat strategies because community character and tax bases will not shift as suddenly. 

Fourth, participatory planning can help educate stakeholders and build support for complex community solutions. Through the visionary component of plans, governments can give residents a voice to inform the future state of their communities in light of changing coastlines. Plans can potentially mitigate the sense of loss people may feel by giving them a platform to influence the future of their communities and providing them with a tangible vision for which they can aim. In short, plans can potentially aid governments in creating managed retreat processes that reflect community transformation instead of loss. 


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Developing Plans for Managed Retreat

The issues associated with coastal zone management should not be considered separate or apart from ongoing land-use and infrastructure planning. As such, these issues need to be explicitly incorporated into the regular cycle of legally mandated planning documents. There may, however, also be an opportunity to pursue supplemental planning initiatives for discrete purposes or areas. These efforts might be out-of-cycle or discretionary planning initiatives that explore solutions to challenges, such as specific inter-governmental coordination efforts, or unique conditions associated with inter-jurisdictional challenges, such as metropolitan-scale coordination or ecological asset-based planning centered on watersheds or regional wetlands.  

Among the many types of planning efforts that can be applied in a managed retreat context, below are nine types of plans that states and local governments can consider developing:

These particular plans, described in detail below, reflect current examples of coastal jurisdictions that have developed or are in the process of implementing plans with a strong or explicit nexus to managed retreat. This list and these case study examples will be updated as other jurisdictions incorporate managed retreat in their plans.   

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Hazard Mitigation Plans (e.g., State of Hawaii and City and County of Honolulu): In hazard mitigation plans, state and local governments develop strategies to protect people and property from future disaster events. These plans must meet requirements set by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).See footnote 1 Hazard mitigation plans start by identifying risks and vulnerabilities related to a given disaster or multiple types of disasters, like hurricanes, tsunamis, or flooding, and then potential strategies to reduce those risks and vulnerabilities.See footnote 2  In a managed retreat context, hazard mitigation plans can identify and increase awareness of coastal risks and vulnerabilities related to climate change. Hazard mitigation plans can also include strategies like buyouts that can be used to implement retreat. 

A road runs parallel to a rocky coast, protected only by a short concrete wall.Source: Wikimedia Commons.

While hazard mitigation plans can serve as an effective planning tool for managed retreat, they are also notable because a hazard mitigation plan approved by FEMA is a prerequisite for state and local governments to receive funding from FEMA’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communiteis (BRIC)Hazard Mitigation Grant, and Flood Mitigation Assistance programs.See footnote 3 Hazard mitigation plans provide the dual benefit of making state and local governments eligible for potential federal funding opportunities to implement retreat strategies. Only those strategies that are included in or consistent with hazard mitigation plans, however, can be funded; therefore, it is important for state and local governments to evaluate potential managed retreat strategies in these plans if they want to preserve their options for future funding consideration. 

Hazard mitigation plans can be cross-jurisdictional and cover multiple hazards in multi-hazard mitigation plans. The physical impacts of sea-level rise, flooding, and land loss may necessitate regional and multifaceted approaches to planning for retreat that hazard mitigation plans can offer because coasts and flooding extend across jurisdictional boundaries and can be influenced by various climate- and disaster-related factors. Although distinct, hazard mitigation plans can be similar to and aligned with climate adaptation plans and incorporated into other types of state and local plans.See footnote 4   


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Coastal Management Plans (e.g., Hawaii Feasibility Study on Managed Retreat, Louisiana Coastal Master Plan, Rhode Island Shoreline Change Special Area Management Plan or “Beach SAMP”): Coastal management plans are a way for state and local governments to consider and articulate balancing human uses and development with ecosystem conservation and protection in vulnerable coastal areas. The federal Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) and state-developed coastal management programs approved by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce under the CZMA regulates the “coastal zone” as a unique legal jurisdiction.See footnote 5 

In a managed retreat context, this type of plan can specifically guide development and conservation actions within a jurisdiction. While governments can develop new coastal management plans to meet individual needs, jurisdictions may not have to “reinvent the wheel” and can think creatively about existing plan opportunities, templates, and models and adapt them for climate change and managed retreat purposes. For example, Special Area Management Plans or “SAMPs” can be developed using coastal zone enhancement fundingSee footnote 6 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) under the CZMA.See footnote 7  SAMPs are resource management plans developed to better manage specific geographic areas, although this may include a state’s entire coastal zone (e.g., Rhode Island). Notably, the CZMA provides that SAMPs can be used to “provide for increased specificity in protecting significant natural resources, reasonable coastal-dependent economic growth, improved protection of life and property in hazardous areas, including those areas likely to be affected by land subsidence [and] sea level rise . . . .”See footnote 8 Rhode Island capitalized on its extensive experience with the existing SAMP modelSee footnote 9  to create the nation’s first coast-wide adaptation plan, the Beach SAMP, that mapped climate and flooding impacts along the state’s coastline to inform more resilient development and redevelopment and potential retreat or relocation strategies. In contrast, some states or local governments may choose to pave the way with new examples of coastal management plans for retreat. In 2019, the State of Hawaii released the first example of a non-SAMP coastal plan assessing the potential feasibility of managed retreat in Hawaii. States and local governments can evaluate opportunities for both adapting existing types of plans like SAMPs and creating new types when reinvention is needed.  

Coastal management plans can complement or supplement state and local pre-disaster mitigation planning and recovery efforts, and local comprehensive plans and zoning regulations. 

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Local Comprehensive Plans (e.g., plaNorfolk 2030, Punta Gorda, Florida): Municipalities are generally required to have a long-term comprehensive plan that anticipates future land-use controls, such as zoning and special urban design districts.See footnote 10  A comprehensive plan provides the legal basis and support for land-use regulations.See footnote 11  Comprehensive plans are often referred to as general or master plans as well. Comprehensive plans are generally prepared for anywhere from a 10- or 25-year time horizon. Typically, legislation mandates updates (e.g., every five years) and that plans must be informed by many different studies, not the least of which are demographic projections, assumptions around the economy, housing, and infrastructure, as well as environmental studies. After this document has been completed (typically with robust stakeholder engagement), it is usually adopted by either a jurisdiction’s city council, board of supervisors, or a dedicated planning commission. Once adopted, comprehensive plans become the legal foundation for zoning in a jurisdiction, which typically specifies site-specific standards for discrete land-use proposals.See footnote 12  

A harbor walk in Punta Gorda, Florida. The brick walkway is dotted with palm trees and streetlights, and the water is visible below.Source: Wikimedia Commons.

At least in theory, municipalities possess tools and legal structures to anticipate coastal change and plan for managed retreat — where appropriate and prioritized by communities — through existing comprehensive plans and land-use and zoning regulations and programs. It is important to note that to date, there are only a handful of municipalities in the United States that have meaningfully incorporated sea-level rise into their comprehensive plans. Comprehensive plans can play an important role in identifying and coordinating many actions related to retreat including: identifying areas most suitable for long-term land uses; designating open space zones for wetlands migration corridors; providing legal justification for coastal setbacks or other regulatory tools for new development; and factoring future demographic data about population shifts due to climate change into demographic projections to support housing and infrastructure investments in higher ground receiving areas.

By meeting the legal requirements for comprehensive plans, local governments can develop a key tool to enhance the potential for incorporating sea-level rise, flooding, and land loss considerations into local land-use and zoning decisions. In addition, local governments can utilize comprehensive plans as a tool to integrate and potentially implement other types of plans for retreat that traditionally lack a concurrent legal nexus, particularly hazard mitigation plans and climate adaptation plans (e.g., Punta Gorda, Florida). 


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Climate Adaptation Plans (e.g., Punta Gorda, Florida, Louisiana Strategic Adaptations for Future Environments or “LA SAFE” Adaptation Strategies, Virginia Beach Sea Level Wise Strategy): Climate adaptation plans outline or direct how states and local governments will prepare to address forecasted climate change impacts. These plans vary in format, level of detail, and sectors covered, among other factors, and are often preceded by and aligned with or include a climate vulnerability assessment. 

For coastal states and communities, climate adaptation plans will ideally provide an opportunity for governments and other stakeholders to consider the full range of climate adaptation strategies for protection, accommodation, and retreat. This decisionmaking process informs where and when, if at all, each strategy will be prioritized and potentially implemented through different legal and policy tools. While managed retreat may not play a role in or be appropriate for all climate adaptation plans, the key is that these plans can be used as a mechanism to elevate proactive discussions about managed retreat to put it on an even playing field with protection and accommodation strategies. Where managed retreat is identified as a preferred coastal adaptation strategy, these plans can better enable states and communities to mitigate potential costs (e.g., economic, environmental, social) at the outset of these processes and not solely view retreat as an option of last resort.

As sea-level rise, flooding, land loss, and disaster events are expected to increase in frequency and intensity, it will become increasingly important to prepare these comprehensive adaptation strategies early and not just in a post-disaster context. Early discussions are particularly advantageous where efforts to conserve coastal ecosystems require more lead time to protect migration corridors and prepare receiving areas for people choosing to relocate away from the coast. These efforts may also require significant investments in housing and supporting infrastructure and services.

Climate adaptation plans may overlap with other types of plans, particularly longer-term or visioning ones, and can be integrated with or implemented through hazard mitigation plans and disaster recovery funding or local comprehensive plans and land-use and zoning regulations. 

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Two images: the top image shows the Short-term Vision for Resilient Edgemere. It includes hard barriers to protect against sea level rise. The second image is of the Long-term Vision for Resilient Edgemere. It incorporates greenspace, living shorelines, and less development near the water.

Short-term and long-term visions from the Resilient Edgemere Community Plan. Credit: New York City Department of Housing, Preservation, and Development.

Long-Term or Visioning Plans (e.g., Norfolk Vision 2100, Virginia, Resilient Edgemere Community Plan, Queens, New York): Long-term or visioning plans are distinct from local comprehensive plans because they are not legally required and can help communities plan over longer time periods (i.e., beyond a 10-25-year time horizon) by taking a forward-facing look at what their communities could look like in light of anticipated climate impacts. These types of plans can also provide municipalities with more flexibility to engage communities and design plans to suit their unique climate adaptation and managed retreat needs and priorities without having to meet specific legal requirements (e.g., complex plan formats, extraneous elements). For example, while Norfolk Vision 2100 encompasses the entire municipality of Norfolk, the Resilient Edgemere Community Plan was drafted through a community engagement process to address the specific needs of one neighborhood in Queens after Hurricane Sandy.

While these types of plans are likely to play a greater role at the local level with communities on the front lines of coastal change, states can also consider long-term or visioning plans that complement or support local initiatives (e.g., Louisiana Coastal Master Plan). Since physical impacts on the coast will manifest over present and future time periods, long-term and visioning plans can help states and communities better plan for and make smarter, more resilient investments in coastal development that will be in place for more than a few years. 

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Post-Disaster Recovery and Redevelopment Plans (e.g., State of Florida, State of Georgia, Princeville, North Carolina): Post-disaster recovery and redevelopment plans guide how a community will recover and rebuild after a major disaster. Post-disaster recovery and redevelopment plans can help state and local governments implement post-disaster response and recovery actions to mitigate future risk in coastal areas. These plans can be integrated with hazard mitigation and local comprehensive plans. Like hazard mitigation plans, post-disaster recovery and redevelopment plans can help align state and more often local actions with comprehensive managed retreat strategies in a coordinated rather than a haphazard fashion. While governments should strive to proactively plan to “manage” retreat, discussions about retreat have traditionally been and will necessarily continue in a post-disaster context. Coordinated responses and recovery actions can also help governments avoid conflicts with longer-term managed retreat policies.  

A flooded road in Princeville, North Carolina after Hurricane Matthew

A Flooded road in Princeville, North Carolina after Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

In a managed retreat context, local governments can develop a post-disaster plan to identify opportunities to enhance resilience during disaster recovery efforts. Post-disaster plans prioritize the use of disaster recovery funding to discourage or prohibit redevelopment in repeatedly flooded areas through tools like rebuilding moratoria or stricter regulatory standards (e.g., setbacks and coastal buffers, minimum greenspace requirements). In addition to local comprehensive plans, local governments can utilize these plans to proactively make investments in higher ground, safer affordable housing options that can temporarily or permanently receive people after disasters.

Federal and state governments can provide support for local planning efforts through funding and technical assistance and possibly even require that local governments prepare these plans for statewide consistency in administering emergency management programs. Notably, the State of Florida requires that local governments prepare post-disaster redevelopment plans and provides best practices and guidance for developing them. In addition, Georgia’s coastal program, emergency management agency, and FEMA Region IV are coordinating with four coastal counties to complete disaster recovery and redevelopment plansSee footnote 13 with funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coastal Resiliency Grant Program.See footnote 14 Similar to Florida, Georgia also created a guidance document to assist the counties going through this process.See footnote 15  

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Managed Retreat or Relocation-Specific Plans (e.g., 2018 Green Cincinnati Plan, Ohio, Hawaii Feasibility Study on Managed Retreat, Quinault Indian Nation Taholah Village Relocation Master Plan [Washington State]): Managed retreat or relocation-specific plans are an emerging example of plans that guide how communities can proactively plan for different aspects of a managed retreat strategy. These plans are focused on a community’s specific managed retreat goals and objectives and can facilitate easier project implementation because they provide a strategic look or analysis on this one subject, in lieu of solely including managed retreat as one element of a larger plan. For example, Quinault Indian Nation in Washington State created a comprehensive relocation master plan to direct and inform the phased relocation of its Taholah Village from a lower to higher elevation location. Communities or neighborhoods, like Quinault Indian Nation, that choose to relocate in whole or in part may consider this type of plan to be a useful tool.

Given the complex and interdisciplinary nature of managed retreat, managed retreat or relocation-specific plans can help communities identify, prioritize, organize, and coordinate a multifaceted approach to climate adaptation for a defined spatial area or a number of interested parties. Local governments can also tailor these plans to meet their individual needs around managed retreat. In the future, Cincinnati, Ohio anticipates receiving people moving away from the nation’s coast. In its 2018 Green Cincinnati Plan, Cincinnati aims to prepare to become a receiving area as one part of its resilience strategy. Here, managed retreat or relocation-specific plans can provide support to fill specific goals or objectives.

Given their place-based need and focus, these plans are more likely to be developed at the local level and can supplement other broader or longer-term or visioning plans. Nonetheless, states can provide support for plan development, like technical assistance and funding. 

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A crowd of people gather in a large meeting room for a public workshop on the Green Cincinnati plan

More than 250 residents participated in the 2018 Green Cincinnati Plan Kickoff held at the Cincinnati Zoo. Source: City of Cincinnati, Ohio. 


Wetlands Migration or Ecosystem-Specific Plans (e.g., Blackwater 2100, ReWild Mission Bay, San Diego, California): Wetlands migration or ecosystem-specific plans can help direct state and local actions to facilitate coastal ecosystem changes in response to sea-level rise, flooding, and land loss. These plans can ensure that public and private efforts are compatible with comprehensive managed retreat strategies addressing structures, infrastructure, and other community needs.

Adults and children examine the marsh ecosystem up close.

People take part in interactive learning during Love Your Wetlands Day at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Greg Hoxsie for ReWild Mission Bay.

As sea levels rise, wetlands are encountering physical barriers to inland migration in a phenomenon known as "coastal squeeze." Wetlands are being squeezed between sea-level rise on one side and human development on the other, preventing their natural ability to adapt by moving to higher ground. As wetlands migrate, they encroach on existing land uses, such as agriculture, forestry, and residential communities, raising additional questions about shifting economies, equity, and wetlands and private development regulations (e.g., Clean Water Act, coastal zone management and local land-use regulations).

Wetlands migration plans can help state and local governments identify and prioritize areas for coastal restoration that can serve as migration corridors and higher ground wetlands establishment areas before future development exacerbates coastal squeeze and precludes wetlands from transitioning inland. Wetlands migration plans can also be used as a tool to proactively seek community input to avoid or mitigate potential land-use conflicts. These plans can vary based on their spatial scale to cover a protected area (e.g., Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge) or a state’s or municipality’s entire coastline to elevate awareness of this challenge, particularly given the extensive and multiple benefits wetlands provide people, economies, and the environment. For example, a statewide wetland mitigation or adaptation plan could help guide state acquisition efforts, and a local one could support the development of zoning or overlay districts that enhance open space and natural resources conservation. For similar reasons, ecosystem-specific plans could be created for other types of coastal habitats, like forests, and species that are being impacted. 

For more information on wetlands migration, see the Crosscutting Policy Considerations>Wetlands Migration section of this toolkit. 

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Long-Range Transportation Plans (e.g., Miami-Dade Transportation Planning Organization’s 2045 Long-Range Transportation Plan): As a condition of receiving federal surface transportation funds, state transportation agencies and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) are required to engage in performance-based planning for the transportation system in their state or region.See footnote 16 States and MPOs must develop long-range plans (Long-Range Statewide Transportation Plan, or LRSTP, and Metropolitan Transportation Plan, or MTP, respectively) that detail performance measures and targets that will help to further national transportation goals set out in federal law.See footnote 17 Long-range plans typically have a 20- to 25-year planning horizon and provide a vision and overarching policy, and in some cases cite specific transportation projects planned. They provide the framework for developing the required short-term (four-year) plans, which detail specific priority projects and improvements that will be funded (Statewide Transportation Improvement Programs, or STIPs, in the case of states; and Transportation Improvement Programs, or TIPs, in the case of MPOs). 

Some state departments of transportation and MPOs (e.g., Maryland Department of Transportation; Miami-Dade Transportation Planning Organization; North Florida Transportation Planning Organization) have begun integrating climate change and sea-level rise considerations in their long-range plans. These plans could provide an appropriate means to consider transportation infrastructure needs relating to a managed retreat strategy. For example, state DOTs and MPOs that opt to include performance targets in their long-range plans relating to climate change resilience and sea-level rise will then have to link their investment priorities (as laid out in STIPs and TIPs) to those targets. These plans can then further describe how planned transportation improvements and investments will help achieve targets relating to resilience. Furthermore, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation or “FAST” Act (the five-year surface transportation authorization passed in 2015) added new requirements for long-range plans to consider projects, strategies, and services that improve system "resiliency and reliability" and reduce or mitigate stormwater impacts.See footnote 18 State DOTs are also now required to conduct periodic evaluations on whether "reasonable alternatives" exist to roads, highways, and bridges that have repeatedly required repair or reconstruction as a result of emergency events.See footnote 19 In addition, state DOTs are required to consider these evaluations when developing projects and are encouraged to integrate findings in their planning documents as well, such as long-range plans.See footnote 20 These new planning requirements, while not citing climate change or sea-level rise specifically, may help encourage the consideration of strategies like managed retreat and asset relocation or disinvestment as long-term approaches to improving resilience and reliability of transportation infrastructure and networks. 

For more information on infrastructure tools for managed retreat, see the Infrastructure section of this toolkit. 

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The types and examples of plans described above can serve as a starting point for state and local governments looking to incorporate or elevate discussions about or goals and objectives for managed retreat into one or multiple types of planning efforts. Other project- or subject-based plans or guidance documents could be tiered from or created independently of any of these plans. For example, state and local governments that administer buyout programs could produce a plan or policy document that includes criteria to prioritize buyouts among properties volunteered to be acquired.

The important takeaways are that plans, whatever number and/or type, can be used as a strategic and guiding mechanism to proactively plan for managed retreat to maximize benefits and minimize costs for multiple stakeholders and the environment. Furthermore, different plans including elements of managed retreat should be coordinated and clearly linked. 


Policy Tradeoffs of Plans 

Plans can be used as a mechanism to help governments and communities decide among and prioritize different acquisition, infrastructure, regulatory, and market-based tools in their communities. Governments will have to choose between different types of plans to determine which options are better suited to meet state and local needs and specific objectives for managed retreat (e.g., an ecosystem plan to facilitate wetland migration in a more rural area, updates to comprehensive plans to prioritize investments in receiving areas in urban centers). Plans should be used in combination with and not to the exclusion of acquisition, infrastructure, regulatory, and market-based tools. Accordingly, it is more important for decisionmakers to determine what types of plans and planning processes can best meet state and local needs for retreat than weigh the policy tradeoffs of plans against other tools to select one type of tool over the other. 

Moreover, since plans come in a variety of types and sizes, since they are created for different purposes, and take place at multiple jurisdictional levels, it is difficult to present every potential policy tradeoff of planning tools in a single table. For example, a local government with limited staff and funding resources might decide to prioritize investments in plans that can come with potential project funding opportunities, like a hazard mitigation plan, over a local long-term visioning plan. In contrast, some municipalities may have multiple types of plans with a managed retreat nexus. There are, however, some overarching policy considerations state and local governments can think about before initiating planning efforts:

  • Administrative: Whether a short- or longer-term plan, plans require investments in government staff to start and sustain planning processes for activities that can often span multiple months or years and engage many diverse stakeholders. Smaller or rural communities may face more resource constraints and have less funding allocated to support specialized planning staff for these purposes. In addition, preparing a plan can be expensive and potentially cost-prohibitive for some governments. There are costs associated with the staff time needed to administer the process, retain specialty consultants to draft the plans, and expenses for data collection and engaging with the public. Federal and state grants to local governments are often limited by caps on how much money grantees can spend on planning or administrative functions and tasks. It is important that governments consider opportunities to fund planning processes in conjunction with project implementation. 
  • Social/Equity: Plans are more successful when communities are engaged throughout their conception, development, and implementation. Plans can serve as an effective vehicle for bringing communities together, elevating community voices and concerns, ensuring communities have influence on the process and are included in the decisionmaking, and minimizing inequities by enabling governments to “manage” or be more strategic, inclusive, and thoughtful about the social and economic consequences of climate adaptation and managed retreat. For more information on community engagement and equity in a managed retreat context, see the Crosscutting Policy Considerations>Community Engagement and Equity section of this toolkit. 

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Practice Tips

When implementing planning tools in a managed retreat context, decisionmakers may consider the following practice tips: 

  • Invest in data at an appropriate scale: Physical impacts from sea-level rise, storm surge, different types of flooding (e.g., precipitation), and coastal erosion are the impetus or drivers for state and community decisions to retreat. Accordingly, governments will need the best available scientific data and information on an appropriate scale to effectively guide and inform planning, legal, policy, and project decisions on the ground. This data must be highly placed-based and is key to helping governments and communities identify what coastal areas may necessitate retreat and if so, when and how. While some governments may already have the necessary data, others will have to invest in or look for opportunities to obtain data before they can engage their agencies and communities in discussions about managed retreat. Federal agencies (e.g., National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Geological Survey) and conservation nonprofits (e.g., The Nature Conservancy) may already have data on an appropriate scale that governments can use to inform the development of their plans and corresponding legal and policy decisions. Alternatively, state and local governments may have to consider grant or other funding opportunities to initiate partnerships to collect this data from scratch. Of particular note, flood data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) can serve as a starting point, but it has its limitations. Specifically, FEMA’s data only includes historical and not future flood data, does not incorporate climate change considerations, and may not present data for a community’s most at-risk areas outside of the 100-year (one-percent annual chance) floodplain, particularly for locations that are experiencing compounding flood risks.

    While scientific data is important, community residents — particularly those who have lived in an area for a long time or have historical or cultural ties — can provide additional types of data or information based on historical or lived experiences that, among other things, can help governments better understand cyclical or long-term changes on the coast to inform climate adaptation discussions (e.g., Louisiana Strategic Adaptations for Future Environments or “LA SAFE,” Quinault Indian Nation Taholah Village Relocation). Governments, therefore, should aim to make data collection processes as comprehensive as possible and reach out to more than just scientific and coastal experts. In addition to scientific data, it will also be important for governments to gather and analyze other types of data like economic, housing, demographic, and habitat- and species-specific data to make more resilient investments to account for shifting human and natural resources populations (e.g., Louisiana Coastal Master Plan). Complementary datasets will be key to crafting well-rounded, interdisciplinary approaches for managed retreat.
  • Collaborate across agencies and levels of governments: Given the interdisciplinary nature of managed retreat, it will be crucial for governments to collaborate across agencies and different levels of government (i.e., federal, state, and local) and integrate relevant plans that address various components of a managed retreat strategy. Although government collaboration and planning integration require investments in staff time and resources, they can contribute to more comprehensive strategies that increase the potential for maximizing and more equally distributing the various benefits of managed retreat while minimizing associated costs. For example, plans can enable governments to leverage limited staff time and funding to identify and implement managed retreat laws, policies, and projects that can achieve co-benefits for multiple stakeholders and the environment. Strategic and guiding mechanisms like plans  — or intra- or inter-governmental committees or coordinating bodies built around a plan — can allow different agencies and levels of government to contribute their individual jurisdiction or expertise to a collective “bigger picture” vision for managed retreat. 
  • Plan over both short- and longer-term time horizons: One of the systemic risks associated with short-term planning is that the long-term impacts of climate change are not being adequately incorporated into decisionmaking. Since there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach for planning, governments should consider developing plans over different and multiple temporal horizons. Physical impacts from climate change will manifest differently over time in places and planning processes can help governments coordinate the legal and policy decisions related to those impacts. Planning over shorter-term (e.g., ten years or less) and longer-term time horizons (e.g., more than ten years) will prompt different types of questions and needs that should be addressed proactively in the appropriate types of plans to guide managed retreat decisions both today and tomorrow. Importantly, short-term or present decisions about investments with multiple-decadal life spans (e.g., infrastructure) will have long-term consequences if future development and redevelopment are not designed and sited with sea-level rise, flooding, and coastal erosion in mind.

    In addition, states and communities make decisions along different time horizons (e.g., two- or four-year election cycles, 20-30-year mortgage or infrastructure investments). As a result, plans can be used as a tool to foster cooperation among policymakers and residents in ways that align with important life decisions and milestones. A coordinated approach can help to frame discussions about climate adaptation and managed retreat in more understandable or analogous terms that can create political and community buy-in to advance and support planning and potential implementation efforts. 
  • Create flexible planning models and tools, including phased approaches: State and local governments should consider opportunities to design and implement flexible planning models that can absorb and respond to different factors like changing physical impacts on the coast, community needs and priorities, and other administrative factors (e.g., funding availability, state and local policy or political changes). For example, governments can evaluate how to apply adaptive management principles in their plans, particularly for novel or evolving projects that are anticipated to be implemented and have uncertain impacts or effects. Moreover, flexible and phased approaches to community-driven plans can be used to shape and manage community expectations and mitigate the potential costs of managed retreat. Notably, elected officials, agency policymakers, and residents may be more willing to engage in longer-term planning efforts for managed retreat if potential policies and tools are phased in over time. Specifically, a plan to implement policies over a longer time horizon can mitigate potential losses to local tax bases, economies, and community character and networks. 
  • Align plans with the prerequisite and supporting actions needed to implement managed retreat strategies: Plans can serve as strategic guidance for implementation and help coastal communities respond to climate change impacts. Durable planning documentation can provide enhanced legal certainty to support resilient investments in communities. Plans can also assist governments in taking actions that will have to occur or take place before managed retreat strategies can be implemented. These actions can include removing barriers to implementation by proactively identifying potential funding sources or amending land-use and zoning ordinances. By incorporating these supporting actions into planning efforts, governments can also assess the feasibility of different managed retreat strategies and either prioritize or eliminate many at the early planning phase before investing time and resources into those strategies at the point of implementation.   
  • Remove procedural barriers to equitable participation in planning processes: As with all aspects of developing comprehensive managed retreat strategies, governments should provide communities with the tools, information, and opportunities they need to meaningfully engage and actively participate in planning processes. Governments can make upfront investments to support outreach and educational and information needs by providing meals, daycare, and compensating participants for their time with a stipend to defer travel costs. Allocating funding to support community engagement removes procedural barriers to equitable participation. These investments can ultimately increase the number of people who are able to participate and encourage valuable input through sharing important first-hand knowledge of coastal flooding impacts and community needs. Community insights can be factored into the design and selection of a plan’s mission and vision statements, goals, objectives, and potential adaptation projects. For more information, see the Crosscutting Policy Considerations>Community Engagement and Equity section of this toolkit and Georgetown Climate Center’s Equitable Adaptation Legal and Policy Toolkit
  • Build community capacity to participate in planning efforts: In addition to encouraging and facilitating participation from all interested residents, governments should also evaluate opportunities to build local capacity for residents to lead and meaningfully contribute to planning processes and their implementation. For example, as part of the Louisiana Strategic Adaptations for Future Environments or “LA SAFE” community engagement planning process, the state partnered with a nonprofit, the Foundation for Louisiana, to train local facilitators who played an active role in leading the development of local adaptation plans. Facilitators were offered stipends to compensate them for their time and contributions to the process. Governments can also design and implement plans in ways that can be used as a vehicle to build local capacity.
  • Build public-private partnerships: State and local governments can build various types of partnerships to offset some of the administrative, economic, and social costs of planning processes for managed retreat. For example, public-private partnerships with universities or nonprofits could be used to collect localized data, engage communities in planning discussions and determine how plans can best support local needs to minimize social costs, and evaluate how projects identified in plans can be implemented on the ground. Nonprofit organizations like Urban Land Institute are working to bring private sector investors, developers, and economic development officials to the decisionmaking table as well.

Related Resources

Norfolk Vision 2100

The City of Norfolk Virginia’s Vision 2100 sets out a high-level strategy to adapt to sea-level rise and flooding through the end of the century. By taking this long-term approach, Norfolk hopes to begin making planning and investment decisions now that will help ensure it remains a “dynamic, water-based community” as climate impacts become increasingly acute in the future. The plan outlines a set of citywide actions, including focusing major infrastructure investments in the most resilient areas (defined as those least likely to be affected by sea-level rise or where existing economic resources justify spending additional funds on flood-protection measures). The plan also divides the city into four distinct areas based on topography and sea-level-rise projections; existing and future assets; and current and future development patterns. The four areas are designed to protect, accommodate, or incentivize new development or increased connections with city centers as people are encouraged to move to higher ground. The city formally adopted Norfolk Vision 2100 as an element of its comprehensive land-use plan, plaNorfolk 2030, to ensure that its suggestions become an integral element of city policy. Norfolk Vision 2100 stresses, however, that the document is not a comprehensive plan itself and suggestions will require added analysis before implementation. Norfolk Vision 2100 is an example of longer-term planning for managed retreat and how municipalities can leverage comprehensive plans and zoning ordinance to implement these and other adaptation strategies.

plaNorfolk 2030 - Norfolk, Virginia

In 2013, Norfolk, Virginia updated its general plan by adopting plaNorfolk 2030. Among other objectives, plaNorfolk 2030 reflects the city’s increased awareness of environmental vulnerabilities caused by sea-level rise, in conjunction with soil subsidence, and how flooding risks can be mitigated through land use planning. The plan informed the Norfolk 2100 plan, adopted in 2016, and the city’s updated zoning ordinance in 2018, which aims to enhance floodplain and coastal resiliency and incentive development in upland areas.

New Jersey Climate Change Resilience Strategy and Coastal Resilience Strategy

In October 2021, New Jersey released its statewide Climate Change Resilience Strategy (Strategy), which also includes a Coastal Resilience Strategy. It is the state’s first example of both a statewide climate adaptation plan and a comprehensive coastal resilience plan. The Coastal Resilience Plan is identified as Priority 6 of the six priorities included in the Strategy. The strategies for this priority include incentivizing and supporting community resilience planning and supporting and incentivizing movements to safer areas. 

For supporting and incentivizing movements to safer areas, the state emphasizes a need to think about getting people out of harm's way that is aligned with the ongoing work of the New Jersey Blue Acres Buyout Program. This explicit focus and goal-setting around buyouts and relocation assistance together is unique and noteworthy among other states’ adaptation and resilience plans nationally. 

Building on the Blue Acres Program’s model, the state recommends expanding the work of the Blue Acres Program to parts of the state that are being impacted by climate-driven flooding. In addition, the state also calls for developing relocation programs and support services for buyout participants to mitigate some of the social and financial costs of buyouts by offering people guidance and potentially more money above the pre-storm fair market value of their homes in the form of financial incentives to better enable them to find a new, safer home they can afford.

Delaware’s Climate Action Plan

In November 2021, Delaware released its statewide Climate Action Plan. Delaware created the plan to strategically address future climate change impacts in the state. Among other notable parts of the plan, Delaware suggests that long-term management plans with a focus on future climate impacts can be created to prevent poor fiscal and asset management decisions. This includes creating a managed retreat plan, which Delaware defines as: A plan for the voluntary movement and transition of people and ecosystems away from vulnerable coastal areas. Georgetown Climate Center’s Managed Retreat Toolkit was cited as a reference for the definition. Under one of the plan's action categories or goals, one of the state’s strategies is to: Update or create management plans to incorporate future climate projections. An action to implement this strategy is to: Develop a statewide managed retreat plan and update it periodically.

City of Charleston, South Carolina Comprehensive Plan 2021

In the Charleston City Plan 2021 (the Plan), the City of Charleston, South Carolina presents a roadmap to guide land-use planning, policy, and investment through 2030 with a focus on creating a more resilient and equitable future. This state-mandated comprehensive plan can serve as a resource and tool for a variety of users including city staff, residents, and community organizations. The City of Charleston weaves resilience throughout the Plan and also treats resilience and equity as an independent Plan element. In addition, the Plan addresses elements for Affordable Housing, Land-Use, and Natural Resources, among others to accommodate relocation and population changes and growth in the face of increasing flood risk. 

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Houston, Texas: Resilient Houston and Affordable Housing and Nature-Based Efforts

Houston has been battered by six federally declared flooding disasters in five years, including the record-setting Hurricane Harvey in 2017. A significant amount of Houston’s existing development is located in vulnerable floodplains. These land use patterns, combined with recurrent disasters, have served as the impetus for Houston to undertake several related efforts to increase local resilience. Notably, the city developed the Resilient Houston plan. One of the goals in Resilient Houston related to managed retreat is Goal 8 for living safely with water and the removal of all habitable structures from the floodplain by 2030.

To achieve the vision set by Goal 8, one of the resilience approaches embraced by both the Resilient Houston plan and Harris County is to prevent future flood damage in places where structural protections like levees and repairs are not cost-effective or beneficial. The Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) is doing this at the county level through a local voluntary buyout program. Under Goal 8, Houston plans to pilot potential relocation efforts on the city level to “make room for water” to live more safely with it. To address the flooding risks faced by underserved and low-income communities, Houston will work with partners to create a community buyout and land swap program for any homes inside the floodway or floodplain that cannot be reasonably repaired or elevated. This pilot would occur, in addition to buyouts led by HCFCD.

Virginia Beach Sea Level Wise Adaptation Strategy

The City of Virginia Beach, Virginia Sea Level Wise Adaptation Strategy is designed to help guide the city’s steps to become more resilient and adapt to sea-level rise and flooding by gradually implementing actions, including for managed retreat, through a watershed-based approach. Virginia Beach consists of four watersheds, both inland and coastal, that are characterized by unique physical properties and land-use patterns and affected by five distinct types of flooding — high tide, wind tide, storm surge, rainfall/compounding, and groundwater flooding. To accommodate these differences, four watershed-specific plans were developed with a suite of adaptation tools and projects for each watershed. Notably, higher ground, less flood-prone areas within different watersheds are prioritized for concentrating development away from more flood-prone or coastal areas. The strategy is noteworthy for identifying adaptation tools and projects based on the different types of flooding that occurs in each of the city’s watersheds. Other local governments may consider this example to adopt similarly crafted watershed- or neighborhood-scale adaptation plans in jurisdictions with diverse flooding risks, geographies, and land-use patterns.

Managing the Retreat from Rising Seas — State of Hawaii: Assessing the Feasibility and Implications of Managed Retreat Strategies for Vulnerable Coastal Areas in Hawaii

In February 2019, the State of Hawaii Office of Planning, Coastal Zone Management Program (CZMP), published a report: Assessing the Feasibility and Implications of Managed Retreat Strategies for Vulnerable Coastal Areas in Hawaii (report). CZMP drafted the report in response to a request for the state to evaluate the potential for a managed retreat program in Hawaii. In developing the report, CZMP designed and implemented a three-phased approach that consisted of conducting background research; evaluating how retreat could apply in four different area typologies; and convening an interdisciplinary symposium to engage experts and stakeholders. As a result, CZMP concluded that it is not currently possible for Hawaii to develop a step-by-step plan to implement managed retreat for areas in the state threatened by sea-level rise and other coastal hazards; however, the report contains recommendations for potential next steps, including assembling an interdisciplinary committee to work towards achieving a statewide consensus about a managed retreat vision and efforts to formulate a retreat strategy. Both Hawaii’s three-phased approach and the final report provide helpful examples of how one state designed and implemented a comprehensive process led by its CZMP to evaluate the potential for retreat. These examples may inform planning and policy actions for managed retreat in other jurisdictions.

City and County of Honolulu, Hawaii Multi-Hazard Pre-Disaster Mitigation Plan

In 2019, the City and County of Honolulu on the Hawaiian island of Oahu adopted an updated Multi-Hazard Pre-Disaster Mitigation Plan approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The dual purposes of the plan are to protect people and structures from damage; and minimize the city and county’s disaster response and recovery costs. The plan identifies 13 hazards, including climate change effects, and corresponding actions, including managed retreat, that the city and county may take to minimize future risks. As a result of this effort, the City and County of Honolulu will aim to integrate the plan with other local land-use and zoning plans and policies to factor hazard mitigation into future development decisions.

In addition, Honolulu’s Multi-Hazard Pre-Disaster Mitigation Plan provides an example of how state and local plans can be integrated. In 2018, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency released an update to the state’s Hazard Mitigation Plan. Similar to Honolulu’s Multi-Hazard Pre-Disaster Mitigation Plan, the state’s Hazard Mitigation Plan also includes managed retreat among other potential adaptation strategies. Honolulu’s Multi-Hazard Pre-Disaster Mitigation Plan is building on the state’s Hazard Mitigation Plan to ensure that potential managed retreat projects for infrastructure and new development in Honolulu can be aligned with state objectives and leverage different federal funding opportunities (e.g., for hazard mitigation, coastal management). Moreover, in 2019, the state’s Office of Planning, Coastal Zone Management Program released a feasibility study on managed retreat, which was identified in the state’s hazard mitigation plan. This work across the state’s hazard mitigation and coastal management agencies further exemplifies cross-state and state-local planning coordination.

Rhode Island Shoreline Change Special Area Management Plan (Beach SAMP)

In June 2018, the State of Rhode Island’s Coastal Resource Management Council (CRMC) adopted the Rhode Island Shoreline Change Special Area Management Plan (Beach SAMP) to help Rhode Island’s coastal communities better adapt to the impacts of climate and shoreline changes. The Beach SAMP includes guidance and various tools for policymakers and coastal managers. In Chapter 5, CRMC presents the Coastal Hazard Application Guidance” — a five-step risk assessment framework it developed for applicants to address the coastal hazards from climate change in permit applications submitted to CRMC for new and substantially improved projects. Through a subsequent regulatory amendment, CRMC now requires (since July 2019) that permit applicants submit a Coastal Hazard Application worksheet with their application to CRMC. The Coastal Hazard Application worksheet must follow the Coastal Hazard Application Guidance provided in the Beach SAMP. Chapter 7 of the Beach SAMP outlines a suite of adaptation measures property owners and decisionmakers can consider including relocation or managed retreat. The Beach SAMP provides a useful example of innovative shoreline change planning and serves as a policy model for other state agencies and local governments on how to ensure new development and redevelopment can better adapt and be more resilient to climate change and other coastal hazards.

Virginia Coastal Resilience Master Planning Framework

In October 2020, the Commonwealth of Virginia published the Virginia Coastal Resilience Master Planning Framework (Framework), which presents the Commonwealth's strategy for implementing coastal protection and adaptation measures to increase the flood resilience of coastal communities and economies. Notably, the Framework identifies the goal of releasing a strategic coastal relocation handbook to ensure the safety of groups living in areas most susceptible to flooding, inform local planning, and ensure local governments make informed decisions regarding coastal development. The Framework presents the core principles of the Commonwealth's approach to coastal adaptation and protection and describes how Virginia will develop and implement its first Coastal Resilience Master Plan by the end of 2021.

Virginia Coastal Resilience Master Plan: Phase One

In December 2021, the Commonwealth of Virginia published Phase One of the Virginia Coastal Resilience Master Plan, which presents the Commonwealth's strategy for implementing coastal protection and adaptation measures to increase the flood resilience of coastal communities and economies. The Plan builds on the Virginia Coastal Resilience Master Planning Framework, which was released in October 2020. Phase One of the Commonwealth’s Master Plan is Virginia's first statewide coastal adaptation or resilience strategy. It includes data about riverine, coastal, and precipitation-based flooding informed by a stakeholder-driven process and introduces different adaptation tools, strategies, and funding sources that can help the state and regional and local governments and communities evaluate, prioritize, and rank future coastal resilience projects to better guide and support these decisionmaking efforts. Among other next steps highlighed in the plan, the state notes that it is in the process of preparing an Introduction to Strategic Coastal Relocation document, which will include a discussion “about moving private and public assets to higher ground.” 

Louisiana 2017 Coastal Master Plan

Louisiana's 2012 Coastal Master Plan, also titled Louisiana's Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast, is a landmark 50-year, $50 billion blueprint for a sustainable coast. This plan, prepared by the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, was passed unanimously by the Louisiana legislature in May 2012. The first plan was released in 2007 and has been updated every five years since then, with the most recent version from 2017. The 2012 Coastal Master Plan is the most comprehensive to date, offering solutions to Louisiana’s coastal environmental and engineering challenges. The plan identifies and prioritizes non-structural and potential managed retreat strategies based on anticipated flood risk. Other states could consider the Louisiana Coastal Master Plan to guide decisions about coastal climate adaptation processes that are informed by data and community input and include considerations for retreat strategies and investments in receiving areas.

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

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 (Jefferson, Lafourche, Plaquemines, St. John the Baptist, St. Tammany, and Terrebonne). 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.

LA SAFE adopts a regional approach to addressing coastal flood risk; projects are designed to address risk and resilience across multiple sectors (e.g., housing, transportation, infrastructure, economic development), and to advance adaptation projects to achieve different risk-based goals (e.g., reshape development in low risk areas that will receive populations migrating from coastal areas, retrofit development in moderate risk areas to accommodate increasing flood risk, and resettle people in high flood risk areas losing land and population).

Louisiana Strategic Adaptations for Future Environments (LA SAFE) Adaptation Strategies

Building on LA SAFE’s community-driven framework for adaptation and the ten state-funded projects, the state is continuing to work with the six parishes to mainstream and institutionalize adaptation and resilience at both the regional and parish levels. In May 2019, the state released a regional adaptation strategy and six parish-level strategies to support long-term adaptation planning. Each strategy follows LA SAFE’s framework for identifying projects to meet different adaptation and development goals based on flood risk to ensure that future regional and local projects are similarly designed to advance comprehensive approaches. Notably, to support parishes in reaching their housing and development goals, the strategies identify projects that direct growth to low risk areas and prepare receiving communities. These strategies will assist parishes as they develop and invest in additional projects that will be more resilient to coastal impacts over the state's 50-year planning horizon and achieve multiple benefits for communities. 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.

Managing the Retreat from Rising Seas — Punta Gorda, Florida: Climate Adaptation and Comprehensive Plans and Updates

The harborside city of Punta Gorda, Florida has responded to the threat of coastal storms and climate change impacts with two different plans — a Climate Adaptation Plan and a local comprehensive plan  — to promote, manage, and protect the city’s natural resources and plan for development in a way that minimizes risks to people and property and conserves ecosystems. The Adaptation Plan is unique because it was developed through a “citizen-driven process” designed to identify effective local responses to climate change and includes a variety of adaptation options that enjoy broad community support, including managed retreat or “planned relocation.” The city incorporated the Climate Adaptation Plan into its comprehensive plan to ensure that climate change is considered in land-use decisionmaking efforts. In 2019, the city released an update to its Adaptation Plan that identifies the city’s progress to date and future adaptation actions the city could consider implementing. Punta Gorda provides a useful example of how effective community engagement can enhance adaptation planning and build community support for managed retreat strategies. The city’s actions also provide a useful example of how adaptation plans can be used to inform future land-use decisions to ensure safer, more resilient development.

Managing the Retreat from Rising Seas — Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Maryland: Blackwater 2100

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. Blackwater NWR is a wildlife sanctuary and wetland area of high ecological importance located in Dorchester County, Maryland. 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 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.

Managing the Retreat from Rising Seas — Queens, New York: Resilient Edgemere Community Plan

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. 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. The plan was created in parallel with Build It Back, a citywide housing recovery program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 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.

Managing the Retreat from Rising Seas — Quinault Indian Nation, Washington: Taholah Village Relocation Master Plan

Quinault Indian Nation (QIN), a federally recognized tribe located in Washington state, is currently implementing a phased relocation plan as part of a managed retreat strategy in response to the  impacts of sea-level rise, flooding, and concerns about the increased likelihood of tsunamis and storm surges attributed to climate change. In 2017, QIN adopted the Taholah Village Relocation Master Plan that outlines a vision and development plan for relocating a portion of QIN living in the Lower Village of Taholah to a higher ground location in the Upper Village Relocation Area. The Master Plan contains eleven chapters covering the history and background about the need to relocate, goals and principles of the plan, and different aspects of the Upper Village blueprint that includes appropriate community facilities, housing, infrastructure, culture, sustainability, and resilience. It also sets forth implementation steps for the project through phasing, necessary regulatory changes, and funding. QIN developed the Master Plan with significant community input. Community engagement processes and sustainable planning strategies can provide transferable lessons for other state and local jurisdictions considering similar questions of strategic planning for coastal retreat and relocation, even on a smaller scale.

Managing the Retreat from Rising Seas — San Diego, California: ReWild Mission Bay

In San Diego, California, the city and various stakeholders are evaluating different land-use and planning alternatives to conserve and restore migrating wetlands in Mission Bay as a part of local decisionmaking processes. To conserve and restore Mission Bay, San Diego Audubon and other partners started an initiative called “ReWild Mission Bay” that evaluated different alternatives for protecting wetlands through a feasibility study, the Wetlands Restoration Feasibility Study Report, that outlines a potential future for Mission Bay. One of the feasibility study’s alternatives aims to relocate Campland on the Bay, an existing RV campground on land owned by the city, inland. By moving Campland on the Bay inland, the city could address wetland migration while providing community resilience and environmental benefits. The alternative to relocating the location for Campland on the Bay, if implemented, would be aligned with and build on other local planning efforts to convert a part of the surrounding Mission Bay Park into a regional amenity that accommodates both public and private uses. The feasibility study provides one example of a site-specific or place-based plan that can be implemented along with other local plans to promote comprehensive decisionmaking efforts to facilitate managed retreat.

2018 Green Cincinnati Plan, Ohio: Leveraging Resilience to Become a Climate Haven

In the Green Cincinnati Plan, Cincinnati, Ohio assesses opportunities for local investments in housing and critical services for people relocating in response to climate change. In April 2018, Cincinnati released its Green Cincinnati Plan, a strategic document to guide the city’s goals and objectives to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and become more resilient. In one part of the plan, Cincinnati identifies itself as a future “climate haven” that may receive people relocating from more vulnerable areas like coastal areas experiencing sea-level rise and flood-prone areas impacted by climate change. Cincinnati uses the Green Plan to set a roadmap for making preparations to accommodate people moving to the city as a result of this domestic climate “in-migration.” In the plan, Cincinnati assesses the potential number of people that may relocate there in the future and conducts a cost-benefit analysis to estimate the economic costs for this in-migration. As a result of this analysis, the city proposes ways to move forward with preparing for a population influx. Cincinnati finds that it is feasible to become a climate haven, but that it will have to proactively prepare for new residents. The Green Cincinnati Plan can serve as an example for other local jurisdictions anticipating receiving people moving away from their homes in response to climate change. Long-term proactive planning, like in Cincinnati, can help address equity concerns and minimize the economic and social costs of population transitions.

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. 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 (HMDRRI). Led by the Coastal Resilience Center for Excellence, HMDRRI assembled and deployed an interdisciplinary group of university faculty, students, and other experts to address both community- and state-level needs to recover from Hurricane Matthew. In Princeville, efforts through HMDDRI resulted in the production of multiple outputs to make the town more resilient, including a disaster recovery plan and Homeplace, a “conversation guide” for Princeville residents to enable them to learn about and inform residential design and construction options and strategies that can be integrated with long-term disaster recovery plans (e.g., greenspace and mixed-use development). In addition, Princeville worked with HMDDRI to develop managed retreat strategies that can increase the town’s resiliency to future floods. Princeville provides an example for other municipalities either in a pre-or post-disaster context for how to balance the need to preserve the original townships while dealing with flooding vulnerabilities and increasing the resiliency of core community assets and services through adaptation actions.

Annexing Higher Ground and Preparing Receiving Areas in Hamilton, Washington

In 2019, after decades of repetitive flooding, the town of Hamilton in Skagit County, Washington partnered with Forterra, a local land conservancy nonprofit, to annex a 48-acre parcel of land located outside of the town’s 100-year floodplain. Hamilton began planning for the annexation in 2007 by rezoning the parcel of land to be annexed to include it within the municipality's boundaries. Annexing this land will provide Hamilton with a higher, drier ground area where town residents could voluntarily relocate to new homes. Forterra is developing plans for the annexed parcel to build affordable, environmentally conscious homes for Hamilton residents. Hamilton provides an example for other municipalities and local governments either in a pre- or post-disaster context for revitalizing a community challenged by frequent flooding through adaptation actions. As done in Hamilton, local governments may consider proactively planning to facilitate future possibilities for providing relocation options to residents within a floodplain. Planning for managed retreat can help increase the likelihood that local governments maintain their local communities, tax bases, and economies when residents relocate. 


Post-Disaster Redevelopment Planning: Addressing Adaptation During Long-Term Recovery

This report provides guidance to Florida communities on how to incorporate adaptation measures to address sea-level rise impacts into post-disaster redevelopment plans. Developed by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and Division of Emergency Management, this report is an addendum to Florida’s Post-Disaster Redevelopment Planning Guidebook. The addendum was developed as part of Florida’s Statewide Post-Disaster Redevelopment Planning Initiative that began in 2007 to provide a process and guidelines to help ensure resilient redevelopment of local communities. The report focuses on Palm Beach County, which was used as a pilot community to test the planning process and a range of the adaptation strategies. While Palm Beach County was selected as the pilot community, the adaptation strategies explored in the report may be useful for any community seeking strategies to enhance community sustainability by creating post-disaster redevelopment plans that can be incorporated into a comprehensive managed retreat strategy.

Sea Level Rise Ready: Model Comprehensive Plan Goals, Objectives, and Policies to address SLR Impacts in Florida

This resource presents selected model comprehensive planning goals, objectives, and policies meant to address local sea-level rise adaptation for a hypothetical city/county in Southwest Florida. It offers best practice examples from other jurisdictions that illustrate the use of sea-level rise adaptation policies, and it concludes that “low or no regrets” actions can be implemented now and in many cases already have been taken by one or more local jurisdictions. Model Goal 1 creates a "Vulnerable Area" overlay for spatial planning, while Goals 2, 3, and 4 establish a framework for comprehensively pursuing protection, accommodation, and managed retreat strategies within the overlay.

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