10.6 Adaptation Planning in the Town of Nags Head, NC: From Communication, to Co-Production, to Funded Actions

Thursday, 11 January 2018: 11:45 AM
Ballroom F (ACC) (Austin, Texas)
Jessica C. Whitehead, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC; and H. White, C. R. Kamrath, and L. Schiavinato

State law in North Carolina does not outlaw planning for climate change or sea level rise at the local level. However, planning to mitigate current storm hazards or to adapt to long term climate variability and change is not a simple process, especially in small coastal communities and rural areas. In addition to the commonly documented “wicked challenges” facing adaptation at the local level, weather- and climate-sensitive decisions in North Carolina’s coastal communities involve multiple decision-makers who face barriers to using weather and climate information, including awareness, trust, acceptance, and availability on decision-relevant scales. These challenges are especially acute in remote, small tourism-dependent communities like those found in coastal North Carolina, where small municipal workforces face multiple demands on time and resources. These unique demands make it more difficult, than in urban areas, to obtain additional internal and external support for hazard mitigation and climate adaptation planning. Improving climate resilience on the ground under these circumstances requires co-production of knowledge to ensure that the communication of weather and climate information, risks, and uncertainty lead to implementable policy and informed decision-making at the weather, climate, and society interface.

The Town of Nags Head, North Carolina, partnered with North Carolina Sea Grant (NCSG) to overcome these challenges and become the first small community in Northeastern North Carolina to document and adopt initial adaptive practices and policy for sea level rise and climate change. In a true case study of co-production in action, their team established a structured, open, facilitated dialogue and prioritization process. As a result, adequate communication and participation enabled the Town to overcome barriers that allowed this adaptation planning process to be simply initiated.

In addition to reviewing available weather and climate science products, which may be useful to adaptation planning, NCSG specialists analyzed existing plans and planning processes for the Town of Nags Head to identify opportunities for mainstreaming proactive coastal hazards planning into existing documents or processes dealing with public infrastructure and access. The team led a Vulnerability, Consequences, and Adaptation Planning Scenario (VCAPS) process to help the community and decision-makers develop a shared understanding of the consequences coastal hazards may have for Nags Head in the future and helped a subcommittee prioritize the initial list of response options. NCSG adapted VCAPS to be deployed as an open public meeting with breakout groups supported by real-time group diagramming of storms and sea level rise consequences. The modified process allowed the team to elicit potential adaptive actions from both public and private sector actors in a process grounded in shared public understanding of local values and priorities, which prevented the conversations from being derailed by participants’ questions on the accuracy of weather and climate information and the scale of available scientific information for local decision-making. The team separated the 58 meeting attendees into three breakout groups, producing three substantially different discussion diagrams rooted in the causal structure of hazards and vulnerability. Together, the three groups identified 93 unique potential adaptation actions public entities could take (municipal, County, state, and federal), and 51 unique potential actions by private actors to be considered (e.g. residents, business owners, NGOs).

As a result of participating in the VCAPS exercise, the town formed a Climate Adaptation and Sea Level Rise Committee to further refine public input into manageable, implementable strategies. After two meetings the group refined the synthesized of potential adaptation actions to 82 actions for the Town, County, state, and federal government entities to consider and 34 actions that could be considered by private entities (e.g. residents, property owners, businesses, and NGOs). The Committee prioritized these actions and drafted a report to be presented to the Nags Head Board of Commissioners in 2017. However, results are already being used to incorporate adaptive policies and actions into the town’s recently adopted Comprehensive Plan and into the town’s budget and capital improvement planning for stormwater and shoreline management. Adoption of the town’s Comprehensive Plan made Nags Head the first municipality in the northeastern North Carolina and the second known statewide (behind Wilmington) to include sea level rise in its comprehensive plan. The town also utilized several VCAPS actions with co-benefits for hurricane recovery and hazard mitigation, to inform input to the Hurricane Matthew Resilient Recovery Plan. Additional future work will respond to the Board of Commissioners’ determinations if an overall standalone climate change and sea level rise adaptation plan is preferred, or if mainstreaming adaptive management practices across all Town plans and policies via targeted guidance on weather and climate risks is their preferred method of progress to increase climate resilience going forward. Regardless of the path to increased resilience, the town is committed to continued engagement and co-production with the scientific community to ensure the wise use of weather and climate information for policy and decision-making.

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