Community-Led Resilience Program Leads to Shovel-Ready Projects

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The Takeaway: Learn how a state’s resilience program is getting coastal communities to “shovel-ready” nature-based projects.


Learn how the North Carolina Division of Coastal Management is helping communities build their resilience to coastal flood hazards through an incentive-based program that provides planning and funding for nature-based projects.

“Having a resilience strategy helps to provide clarity of purpose, attract funding, and provide a more direct path to implementation.”
Graydon Dutcher
Mackenzie Todd Coastal Resilience Specialist North Carolina Division of Coastal Management

Lessons Learned

  • Evaluate your efforts. “We surveyed our participating communities and contractors to provide feedback on the first round of the program, and they shared that this effort helped them to perform a localized risk and vulnerability assessment, which they felt was an important step toward becoming more resilient,” says Mackenzie Todd, the coastal resilience specialist who led the effort. A handful of the participating contractors created their own templates, story maps, and planning processes that were different or missing from the program planning handbook. The team plans to include some of these as examples for the next round. Participating communities also mentioned how they enjoyed the community action teams, and plan to use them for future planning initiatives.
  • Partner with an existing organization that knows the issues and the community. The team had a contracting firm that provided the technical support, and the council of government planner helped with the community engagement. This, in turn, helped build trust with the communities, since they were familiar with their local planner.
  • Consider how many communities you fund. Mackenzie’s team received feedback that they should fund fewer communities so that those that are funded can receive a higher budget. Additionally, contractors felt there was not enough money to conduct quality community engagement and risk and vulnerability assessments county-wide.
  • Ensure people know the difference between resilience planning and hazard mitigation planning. Resilience planning is broader than hazard mitigation planning, and takes into account the social, environmental, and economic impacts of current and future hazards. While hazard mitigation planning plays an important role in building resilience by helping communities prepare for hazards, it’s often based on different sources and more limited perspectives, and it’s important that communities know that. The team plans to add guidance to the handbook to help communities better understand these differences.
  • Provide training materials to contractors and communities on engagement. The program required significant community engagement. The feedback from contractors mentioned that it would have been helpful to have community engagement resources, so they plan to add those to the planning handbook.

The Process

Mackenzie Todd, a coastal resilience specialist with the North Carolina Division of Coastal Management, is leading up the North Carolina Resilient Coastal Communities Program, which focuses on facilitating community-led resilience planning and project identification. The program is providing financial grants and technical assistance to communities to support planning and implementation.

Pilot Program

The state designed a pilot program to identify where state and local staff could focus resources to mitigate future hazard impacts, with the ultimate goal of developing a process that could be used by other coastal communities. A coast-wide needs assessment survey they sent out highlighted that flooding and stormwater management were common issues local governments faced, and that they needed to better understand their vulnerabilities to help inform resilience planning—in addition to requiring increased project funding and grant writing assistance. Communities were also interested in using more natural approaches to help lessen impacts.

The North Carolina Division of Coastal Management and its partners worked with five communities (Duck, Edenton, Hatteras Village, Oriental, and Pine Knoll Shores) to map community assets, engage and educate the public, identify their social and physical vulnerabilities, and explore potential projects. The communities indicated this process helped them gain a localized understanding of impacts, while providing data they could use in grant applications and increasing community engagement in resilience planning.

In 2018, North Carolina was impacted again by Hurricane Florence, which caused significant flooding. In late 2018, a combination of local government and active non-profit partners approached the Division of Coastal Management about holding a series of workshops for coastal stakeholders to discuss problems and solutions to dealing with hazards and climate change risks. “There was a need for a more holistic, forward-looking approach to dealing with flooding, and there were not many shovel-ready projects to compete for federal funding,” says Mackenzie.

During this time, the governor passed Executive Order 80 to commit to addressing climate change, and called for a state risk assessment and resilience plan. The executive order also called for council support for communities interested in assessing risks and vulnerabilities to natural and built infrastructure, and in developing community-level adaptation and resiliency plans.

To address the partner and executive order needs, the Division of Coastal Management and the North Carolina Coastal Federation held regional workshops. The agencies worked with public, private, and non-profit partners to help plan and promote the workshops. Feedback from these workshops resulted in the development of the North Carolina Resilient Coastal Communities Program.

Resilient Coastal Communities Program

Based on lessons learned from the pilot program and workshops, the North Carolina Resilient Coastal Communities Program provides assistance to local governments in coastal counties to conduct resilience planning and identify projects. The phased program consists of the following:

  • Phase one: Community engagement and risk and vulnerability assessment
  • Phase two: Planning, project selection, and prioritization
  • Phase three: Engineering and design
  • Phase four: Project implementation

“The goal of this effort is to remove barriers to coastal resilience at the local level,” Mackenzie says, “which means providing resources and technical assistance to conduct risk and vulnerability assessments, and help develop project ideas, then advance those project ideas to shovel-ready status so communities can get projects in the ground to start building long-term resilience.”

The program received $830,000 from the state general assembly and $1.1 million from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Emergency Coastal Resilience Fund. The Resilient Coastal Communities Program, which is the first of its kind in this state, is modeled after successful programs in other coastal states, such as Massachusetts’ Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Program and Storm Smart Coasts Program, Rhode Island’s Municipal Resilience Program, and Florida’s Resilient Coastlines Program.

For the first round of phases one and two, the North Carolina Division of Coastal Management received 30 applications representing 32 coastal communities. They reviewed the community applications with program partners, and applications were scored across seven criteria, including their level of risk exposure to vulnerable populations and critical assets, their economic status and need, and their internal capacity and momentum with related efforts. Twenty-six communities were selected. They also received 20 applications from contractors, which they scored based on experience in resilience planning, community engagement, nature-based solutions, and relevant work experience in the region. Staff then matched the 10 chosen contractors with communities based on requests, locations, and other relevant factors. The Division of Coastal Management contracted directly with the contracting firms to provide the technical assistance, which lessened the procurement burden on communities.

Phase One: Community Engagement and Risk and Vulnerability Assessment

To help the community and contractor teams complete phases one and two, the Division of Coastal Management wrote the North Carolina Resilient Coastal Communities Program Planning Handbook. The handbook provides specific program requirements, existing data and tools, and resources to help communities meet these requirements.

“We wanted to make sure the community action teams were diverse and that everyone understood that getting to implementation requires a community engagement strategy,” says Mackenzie. To help the communities do this, the Division of Coastal Management provided guidance in the handbook with the goal of building a multi-disciplinary team with expertise in planning and community development, hazard mitigation, engineering, engaging with vulnerable and underrepresented populations, and more. The contractors worked with the local government to develop the community action team.

Due to the pandemic, community engagement didn’t turn out exactly as planned. However, the communities made it work. Some still held in-person meetings that were socially distanced, some held only virtual meetings, and a few provided hybrid options. Some of the contractors got creative and conducted community engagement during events the community was already having. For example, the town of Cape Carteret held an annual fall festival that most of the community attends. Their contractor set up a booth at the festival and had the opportunity to speak to wide range of community members, who were interested in learning about the program and having the opportunity to speak with community leaders about projects they would like to see completed.

Mackenzie says, “For me, the most rewarding part of the project was traveling to the communities and meeting with very invested community members.” She had the opportunity to attend many community action team and public meetings for almost all of the participating communities. Attending these meetings gave her the opportunity to build relationships and gain trust with the communities, while seeing how each of the communities approached the planning steps and prioritized resilience strategies.

Phase Two: Planning, Project Selection, and Prioritization

In phase one, communities completed their risk and vulnerability assessments, which looked at social, economic, and environmental vulnerabilities—not just infrastructure impacts (see more details about the assessment approach in the planning handbook). In phase two, they took their assessment results and started to identify projects that could address those impacts. The contractors worked with the community action team and community members to identify and prioritize a combination of policy, nonstructural, structural, and hybrid actions, including the use of nature-based solutions. These projects and actions were organized into a portfolio. The portfolio process included identifying a suite of potential solutions, then prioritizing projects for engineering and design (phase three).

Actions or projects within the 12 National Fish and Wildlife Foundation-funded counties, or Hurricane Florence-declared counties, were required to include at least one nature-based option. Nature-based projects were encouraged in the eight non-National Fish and Wildlife Foundation-funded counties.

The work done in phases one and two culminated in resilience strategies for all of the participating communities. Three of them (Topsail, North Topsail Beach, and Surf City) joined forces to complete a resilience strategy, which resulted in enhanced regional coordination and shared objectives, and formed the basis for future collaboration throughout the next phase of the project. (View the communities’ resilience strategies to learn how they approached their risk and vulnerability assessment, community engagement, and project selection and prioritization.)

Phase Three: Engineering and Design

Almost all of the communities from phases one and two applied for and received phase three funding. A total of 20 projects representing 22 communities were awarded, for a total grant fund amount of $1.12 million. In funding phase three, Division of Coastal Management staff were looking for projects that were expected to increase local resilience and meet the vision and goals set out in the resilience strategies completed in phases one and two. Applications were scored based on the following:

  • Project’s contribution toward the objectives of the Resilient Coastal Communities Program
  • Project’s alignment with the community’s resilience strategy
  • Project’s feasibility to produce engineering and design plans for a shovel-ready project or a final draft of the developed ordinance or policy
  • Project’s incorporation of nature-based components
  • Project’s equitable consideration of socially vulnerable and historically disadvantaged and underserved populations (e.g., low-income and minority)
  • Potential transferability of the project to other coastal area municipalities and counties
  • Availability of additional funds required to complete the project, if necessary
  • Size and scope of expected benefits
  • Cost effectiveness

One example of a prioritized project was a drainage improvement feasibility study in the Town of Hertford to help identify where nature-based projects would be most beneficial. This project received $45,000. Another project was in Beaufort County, where they identified the need for low-impact development projects, such bioretention cells, rain gardens, and pervious pavement at the local community college. This will not only help with the drainage issues, but also serve as an educational platform for developers and residents. They will include signage throughout to describe the project and what it provides, and they plan to develop educational materials for developers and residents. The county was awarded $64,130 for the engineering and design of this project.

Next Steps

The Division of Coastal Management is currently wrapping up contracting for phase three awards. Once communities have an executed contract with the state, they can begin their procurement process.

The team is also working to take the lessons learned from the first round and make necessary edits and improvements to the program planning handbook and scopes of work. During the program evaluation process, they identified areas for improvement, such as deciding whether to fund fewer communities with a higher budget, or more communities with a smaller budget. Additionally, future participating counties may need to specify an area of interest. Other challenges included funding county-wide assessments and achieving county-wide community engagement. Other improvement areas include

  • Be more hands-on in the community action team development phase by helping to connect communities with other agencies and NGOs for more accurate representation.
  • Be sure communities know the difference between resilience planning and hazard mitigation planning. The program’s risk and vulnerability assessments build upon the data and foundation of hazard mitigation planning to include how hazards affect communities beyond their built environment, including socioeconomics, vulnerable populations, ecosystems, and other natural and cultural resources. This is critical to long-term planning and decision-making, and it’s important that participating communities understand this.
  • Advise communities to review their existing plans and efforts before setting visions and goals, and to revisit these steps during the project identification phase.
  • Provide training materials for communities and contractors on meaningful and successful community engagement.
  • Require a minimum list of critical assets that must be assessed and mapped (including natural infrastructure). Communities picked their critical assets this first round, however, some communities didn’t include things like roads, rivers and wetlands, water and sewer lines, and other critical assets that would have been beneficial to assess.

Most communities plan to use their deliverables for future funding opportunities. The Division of Coastal Management also offered to write letters of support for communities that are applying for other resilient grant opportunities.