Swansboro is among the 25 communities to receive state funds for technical assistance in flood-risk assessment and resilience planning work.
A total of $675,000 has been made available for completion of Phases 1 and 2 of the new NC Resilient Coastal Communities Program, according to a press release. The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Coastal Management announced the awards on March 17.
Chris Seaberg, town manager, shared the news with commissioners at their March 22 regular meeting.
“The fact that we were chosen, of all the coastal communities that could have been chosen, that’s a big deal,” Commissioner Frank Tursi said after the announcement. “Getting this grant is really a big deal, and we should be proud of it.”
Work on the project has already begun for Swansboro. Seaberg and Jennifer Ansell, town planner, met with the representatives of Dewberry Engineering of Raleigh on Friday, April 9, as they begin an orientation period of about two weeks that will also include DCM. Seaberg said he and Ansell would next for an “action team” to work with Dewberry. The team, a steering committee, will be composed of staff, elected and appointed town officials.
“We’ll pose it to the board of commissioners, planning board and flood appeals board, probably,” he said.
DCM contracted with selected contractors to provide direct technical assistance services to localities. Seaberg said the grant totals for local governments in Swansboro’s category are for planning and are between $15,000 and $30,000.
“North Carolinians on our coast are on the front lines of climate change,” said Dionne Delli-Gatti, secretary of the Department of Environmental Quality. “These grants provide vital resources so that coastal communities can identify and address the climate hazards that impact their residents and economies and prepare for a more resilient future.”
The RCCP serves as coastal NC’s resilience framework for communities to develop and implement a locally driven resilience strategy and implement projects or activities which reduce the impacts of coastal and climate hazards like flooding and storms, according to the press release. DCM has selected 18 municipalities and four counties to receive technical assistance to complete a resilience strategy.
“Florence showed a lot of folks a lot of flaws,” said Seaberg, referring to the 2018 hurricane that caused millions of dollars in damages in Onslow County.
While much of the damage was wind-related, this program is to address problems associated with flooding.
“DCM is proud to launch the Resilient Coastal Communities Program, which is the first of its kind in this state and modeled after successful programs in other coastal states,” said Division Director Braxton Davis. “This initial round of funding will provide support for 25 communities to lay the groundwork for efficient investments in long-term resilience to coastal storms and flooding.”
The program is being implemented over four phases: Community Engagement and Risk & Vulnerability Assessment; Planning, Project Selection and Prioritization; Project Engineering and Design; and Implementation.
The division has selected 14 municipalities to receive technical assistance in completion of Phases 1 and 2. Seven counties have been selected for the RCCP.
Four communities, which have shown significant momentum in resilience planning, have been selected to complete the remaining requirements of Phases 1 and 2. In addition to Swansboro, these communities include Duck, Nags Head and Pine Knoll Shores.
The NC Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Coastal Management press release said the NC Resilient Coastal Communities Program took into account seven criteria in selecting the communites.
Included were their level of risk exposure to vulnerable population and critical assets, their economic status and need, and their internal capacity and momentum with related efforts.
To date, this program has received funding from the DEQ under the Hurricane Florence Disaster Recovery Fund and a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The competitive application period for communities wishing to participate in the program opened in November 2020 and closed on Jan. 15. DCM received 30 applications representing 32 coastal communities (one application was submitted jointly by three communities). DCM reviewed the community applications with program partners at the NC Office of Recovery and Resiliency, NC Sea Grant, and The Nature Conservancy.
Phases 1 and 2 will run concurrently under a single contract per community, in order to avoid having to issue a second request for proposals from the communities in quick succession.
Contractors matched with communities by the division will lead the development of the community’s resilience strategy, working directly with local governments and the action teams created to represent each participating locality, according to the press release.
While Seaberg expressed the utmost respect for Dewberry – Dewberry, he said, “is very well-regarded in … flood mitigation” – both he and Tursi were disappointed that the Carolina Wetlands Association did not get the Swansboro contract.
Swansboro is in the midst of working with the Carolina Wetlands Association in seeking ways to protect and restore wetlands. Already, that collaboration has resulted in proposed changes to the town’s Unified Development Ordinance to preserve wetlands.
“We are hoping that we can maintain that relationship,” Seaberg said of CWA. “They helped get us to this point.”
Swansboro fell into the smaller, more advanced, group of communities thanks to its recent land-use plan update. During that 2018 effort, the town engaged in the Vulnerability Consequences and Adaptation Planning Scenario process. (See related story.)
“It’s an extension on the VCAPS,” Seaberg said of the process upon which the town is now embarking.
Not only did the VCAPS process result in identification of the town’s vulnerabilities, Seaberg said it was also largely citizen-driven, which is a crucial part of the upcoming study.
Because of the VCAPS, he added, “Phase 1, we’ve just about completed. Phase 2 is what we need to finish off.
“We’ll definitely finish with Phase 2 and move into Phase 3.”
The town will continue conversation on wetland preservation, hopefully with CWA as well as Dewberry, according to Seaberg. Preservation of wetlands is very important to the town.
“It helps retain flooding and stormwater, to a certain degree,” Seaberg said. And, he added, “We’re looking at better ways of controlling flooding.”
Some problems, he said, have long been identified, citing outdated stormwater conveyance systems as one.
Repairs, though, as the town moves into the third (project identification) and fourth (implementation) phases will require funding.
“Those are the big-ticket items,” Seaberg said.
Potential projects include more living shorelines, possibly acquiring wetlands to ensure their preservation – “It certainly is a possibility,” Seaberg said – or replacing traditional paving with permeable paving. Seaberg cautioned though that careful planning is required in order to ensure the best long-term outcome. “We’ve got to be very strategic,” he said.
Ultimately, this assessment will lead to identifying the best projects followed by their implementation.
“We are trying to create a more resilient Swansboro,” Seaberg said. “We’re just trying to more properly prepare the town. That will happen if we can reduce the potential impact of flood damage.”
Email Jimmy Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more on this story purchase a copy of the April 14, 2021, Tideland News.