adaptation finances

Wetlands Watch Summary of Adaptation Data Needs and Funding Sources

What Virginia Localities Need to Deal with Flooding

What Virginia Localities Need to Deal with Flooding


Snapshot: We hear from a lot professionals and government decision makers about what kinds of information and data they need in order to start implementing flood management/sea level rise adaptation measures. We also hear lots of ways we might find funding to start this work. We pulled this information together in one place to accelerate implementation.

Backstory: As Virginia’s coastal communities move from studies and plans about flooding to putting those ideas into action, they are starting to find data gaps and needs that are impeding progress. Floodplain managers, local government planners, adaptation decision makers, and others along our shorelines began talking about these issues a while ago and there was a clear need to develop a comprehensive list of these data needs. With this list we could fashion a strategic approach to start ticking needed items off and also help set priorities for the new Virginia initiatives being proposed. But to be effective, any list had to come from comprehensive interviews with the stakeholders.

The report is organized by category (data needed for planning, data needed for stormwater, etc.) and each data need also indicates which stakeholder reported the data need to enable users to connect with others sharing those suggestions. By listing the points of contatct for each organization in the back of the report we hope to facilitate this networking.

As our shorline communities move to implementation, funding quickly becomes an issue. There is a similar need to develop a comprehensive list of potential funding sources for this flood management/sea level rise adaptation work.

Virginia’s Coastal Zone Management Program saw these information needs as well and asked Wetlands Watch to conduct a review of critical data needs that had to be addressed, as well as a review of potential funding sources that could support implementation of projects along Virginia’s coastline. This recent study pulls that information together.

This work needs to be done all along our coastline, so that we can begin to share resources and find ways to address the data gaps and maybe, just maybe, start pulling together the funding to implement solutions.

Zoning Rewrite in Norfolk Offers Potential Breakthrough on Adaptation

Schematic of how Norfolk’s resilience point system would work to retire development rights

Schematic of how Norfolk’s resilience point system would work to retire development rights

Snapshot: Norfolk has rewritten its zoning ordinance to make it more “resilient.” Key to this novel approach is a scheme to reward developers who take flooded property and put it into a land trust, fostering an orderly retreat for frequently flooded properties. Wetlands Watch wants to figure out the details, make this work in Norfolk, and then export it along the coast.

Backstory: As we reported, the City of Norfolk, Virginia, spent the last three years rewriting its zoning ordinance, the operating plan for how people develop and do business in this coastal city. We were part of a team helping the city and feel the ordinance is novel in a number of respects, raising resilience standards for development across the city, establishing a novel point system of actions required before development can occur, combining the 10-year floodplain and the 500-year floodplain in a "Coastal Resilience Overlay" (CRO)  district with special conditions for development.

But the most novel of the changes is the emergence of a development option that awards resilience points to a project being planned in the higher parts of the city ("Upland Resilience Overlay") if it extinguishes development rights in the CRO. Under this provision a developer would buy a property in the CRO (or purchase the development rights only) and then transfer it to a land trust. This transaction is a private arrangement between the developer, the property owner in the CRO, and a land trust. The land would be put into a conservation easement, allowing the property owner to take advantage of federal tax deductions and state tax credits.

Wetlands Watch is working with the Elizabeth River Project’s Living River Restoration Trust (LRRT), a new urban land trust working along the Elizabeth River. The LRRT is a partner in this work and is developing a critical role in the restoration of an urbanized shoreline in Southeastern Virginia and adding this forward-looking adaptation component. We recently made a presentation on this proposal that explains more completely what we envision.

Increasing numbers of shoreline property owners are trapped in their homes, unable to sell them at market value due to high flood insurance premium costs or recurrent flooding that becomes a known problem for the property. This Norfolk zoning provision provides some escape for those properties and allows the owner to extract much of the invested value in direct payment from the developer and in the form of tax deductions and credits.

There is much complexity in these transactions, however, and much uncertainty. This arrangement has not been tried anywhere in the country so some adjustments, tweaking, and changes will be needed. For the parties involved, there will need to be more certainty about the economics of the transaction before this comes into widespread use.

Wetlands Watch also wants to have these arrangements contain “rolling easements,” provisions for triggering abandonment of the property when certain natural/flooding/flood loss conditions are met.

We are seeking funding for a two-year project to develop this work into a pilot demonstration that we can move into other Virginia communities and then along the entire US coastline.

Finanical Sector Takes Coastal Risks Seriously.....NOT!

Waves break around a destroyed roller coaster in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, on Nov. 16, 2012. Photographer: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Waves break around a destroyed roller coaster in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, on Nov. 16, 2012. Photographer: Mario Tama/Getty Images

An interesting article from Bloomberg about the reality in the finance sector regarding their perception of risk from sea level rise. We hear lots about the insurance and bond underwriting sectors taking these risks seriously. We hear people say that the financial sector will begin to withdraw from risky coastal regions.

The reality..?

From the article: " When asked by Bloomberg, none of the big three bond raters could cite an example of climate risk affecting the rating of a city’s bonds."

And the sea level rise risk on the Jersey Shore, recently decimated by "superstorm" Sandy? -  "'It didn’t come up, which says to me they’re not concerned about it,' says John Bartlett, the Ocean County representative who negotiated with the rating companies. Both gave the bonds a perfect triple-A rating."

One interesting note is that Moody's has been nosing around the Hampton Roads region, asking localities what they are doing about sea level rise.  See a sample response from the City of Virginia Beach.

Even If You Pay Them to Go, They'll Stay At the Shore

$23 million Steel Wall in NJ  (Katrina d'Autremont-Bloomberg)

$23 million Steel Wall in NJ (Katrina d'Autremont-Bloomberg)

Very interesting article about how the post-Sandy fund designed to buy people out in vulnerable areas is not working. More emphasis on armoring and staying in place instead. This is disturbing since efforts are being made to generate funding - such as Virginia's Shoreline Resiliency Fund - but these funds may not do what we want if folks don't want to move.

Flood Insurance Changes - Great Article on Impacts

Adaptation Choices in Norfolk (l to r) - raise, wait, rebuild  (photo NYT - Benjamin Lowy)

Adaptation Choices in Norfolk (l to r) - raise, wait, rebuild (photo NYT - Benjamin Lowy)

New York Times Magazine takes a look at the issue of flood insurance and its impacts, implications, and responses in Norfolk, VA. Great article by Brooke Jarvis - makes a complicated issue understandable and human.

This is just the start of the changes in coastal communities as risk - both present and future risk - gets priced into the economy. Resilience now means more than dealing with physical protection and environmental improvement. We have to deal with the economic consequences of the changes that we are seeing if we are to really become resilient.

More Action on Alternative Coastal Funding

With all the talk of budget cuts in Washington, including cuts to FEMA disaster programs, states and localities along the shore need to find new ways of dealing with essential flooding fixes. We documented the need for new revenue streams a few years ago in our report on the backlog in flooding mitigation funding. We found that in one Virginia city, if you were at ten end of the waiting list, you'd wait 188 years for someone to get around to helping you fix your house.

We worked with State Senator Lynwood Lewis who sponsored legislation to create a state revolving loan fund for property owners to use. It was patterned after a similar fund in Connecticut, ShoreUP CT. The Virginia Shoreline Resiliency Fund became law in 2016 but there was no funding made available. Next step is to get funding for the revolving loan fund.

Now another state - Rhode Island - is considering this approach to funding coastal protection. Legislation introduced there would create the "Rhode Island Coastal Adaptation Trust Fund," to provide money to fix coastal infrastructure at risk from sea level rise and flooding. That Fund would get money from a 5 cent/barrel surcharge on petroleum products.

We will be watching that legislation in coming months as all of us along America's coastline struggle to adapt.