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Preparing for the Storm:
Recommendations for Management of Risk from Coastal Hazards in Massachusetts
Chapter 2 - Recommendations
The Coastal Hazards Commission (CHC) approved the following 29 recommendations and implementation plans. The recommendations are organized according to the working groups that drafted them: Hazards Information, Policy, Planning and Regulations, and Protection. One recommendation from each working group was selected as a priority. The four priority recommendations are listed at the beginning of their respective sections.Hazards Information
The Hazards Information Working Group focused primarily on data and tools that assess risk of coastal hazards and account for storm damage. Historical data, current studies, reports, presentations, real-time (event-based) data, models, projections, forecasts, maps, and planning tools were discussed and eight recommendations were drafted. The working group identified that Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) need critical updates (Recommendation #1). This is one of the four priority recommendations of the CHC. In addition, the working group suggested that new data, such as Coastal Hazards Characterization Atlases, Risk and Vulnerability Assessment Maps (RVAMs), climate change and sea-level rise data, storm event data, and storm damage projections, should be collected (Recommendations #2-6). Finally, education and outreach of coastal hazards information should also be pursued and evaluated (Recommendations #7 and #8).Flood Insurance Rate Maps
Successful coastal hazards assessment, planning, management, and mitigation require accurate data on flood and storm-damage risks. FIRMs are often used to represent these risks, however the average age of an effective FIRM panel in Massachusetts is now 19.9 years, and the study data used to create these panels is typically several years older. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding allocated to Massachusetts under their Map Modernization Program is insufficient to properly update FIRMs for the coastal zone. FEMA provided only $6 million for this effort, as compared to the $34 million the Massachusetts Map Modernization Business Plan estimated is necessary to update FIRMs for the entire state. The Commonwealth should follow the lead of other states and partner with FEMA to update coastal FIRMs. By providing financial and technical assistance, the partnership would help FEMA leverage funding to update FIRMs according to FEMA's guidelines and specifications.
Coastal Hazards Characterization Atlases
As part of a larger effort to provide municipal Conservation Commissions with guidance on coastal hazards, a Coastal Hazards Characterization Atlas was compiled for the South Shore of Massachusetts (Applied Coastal Research and Engineering, Inc., 2006). The purpose of the Atlas is to present information that can aid in the review of proposed projects in areas that may be vulnerable to coastal hazards. The Atlas will assist local reviewers with the identification of technical information necessary to evaluate individual projects and implement sound coastal hazard mitigation strategies. The following variables were mapped at a sub-regional scale: dominant coastal processes, storm damage susceptibility, properties with multiple National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) claims, shoreline change rates, littoral cells, coastal engineering structures, and relative sea-level rise. The Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) should compile Coastal Hazards Characterization Atlases for the remaining four coastal regions. The estimated cost for each region is $112,500, for a total of $450,000. Based on current storm damage issues, the Atlases should be completed in the following order: North Shore, South Coast, Cape Cod and Islands, and Boston Harbor. All of the atlases should be posted online.
Risk and Vulnerability Assessment Maps
An RVAM is needed by each coastal community to determine which areas are susceptible to coastal hazards, serve as the basis for a vulnerability assessment, and provide critical information for effective and efficient hazard mitigation and emergency response planning. Many coastal communities have not developed RVAMs because they do not have the technical expertise or funding. A standardized Geographic Information System (GIS) methodology should be developed and utilized in the production of each RVAM. At a minimum, each RVAM should identify the following: critical facilities and infrastructure, erosion and flood-hazard areas, evacuation routes, and transportation infrastructure. To understand and address potential socio-economic threats to the communities, it would be beneficial to include local zoning, property boundaries, and valuation data on RVAMs.
Climate Change and Sea-Level Rise Data
The coastal zone is being severely impacted by erosion and flooding due in part to climate change and sea-level rise. It is likely that this impact will increase in the future as sea level continues to rise at the current rate or rises at an accelerated rate. Additional shoreline change and inundation data are needed to plan for and manage current and potential future impacts of sea-level rise. The Commonwealth should support efforts by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and others to map the current and future vulnerability of coastal areas to erosion, inundation, and storm flooding. Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) and other subaerial and submarine data, as well as dynamic coastal geomorphic modeling, should be utilized. These data and information will be useful to a wide range of organizations for both short-term and long-term planning.
Storm Event Data
Coastal conditions need to be recorded immediately after major storms to capture the nature, magnitude, and spatial variability of changes. High-water marks should be flagged by the Massachusetts Rapid Response Coastal Storm Damage Assessment Team (Storm Team) during their assessment of storm damage to preserve the shoreline indicators. Licensed surveyors can map the location of these flags after the storm. The Commonwealth should also make arrangements with the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), USGS, and others to collect aerial photos and LIDAR data within a week of major storms. These data will be used for disaster recovery and erosion mitigation as well as to refine predictive storm models.
Storm Damage Projections
Estimates of the potential loss along the coast due to storm events can provide important information for decision makers and the public. Historical event data can be modeled with current coastal conditions including assessed values of buildings to produce such estimates of risk. Wind data for the Great New England Hurricane of 1938 has been modeled using HAZUS, a risk assessment software program developed by FEMA. HAZUS and other models should be used to produce estimates of physical damage, economic loss, and social impacts due to winds and flooding during storm events.
Coastal Hazards Information Portal
Many organizations produce coastal hazards information, however, the information often does not reach its intended audience because they are not informed that it exists and it is not easily accessible. In addition to printed publications, organizations should post their information online and focus on outreach to inform potential users of the availability of new data and tools. A comprehensive list of coastal hazards information is necessary to direct people to the range of data and tools available, and inform them about the purpose and timeframe of the information. This list should be compiled and posted online as a searchable portal to the information. Contact information for technical staff that can assist with coastal hazards information should also be posted on the portal. The portal also should also be publicized and updated as new information becomes available. The Hazards Information Working Group compiled a preliminary list of data and tools to serve as the foundation for the implementation of this recommendation (Appendix B).
Coastal Hazards Outreach Evaluation
Coastal communities need coastal hazards and emergency management information before high winds, flooding, and erosion occur. This information helps residents and visitors to understand their risk, prepare emergency supply kits, evacuate, and find shelter if needed. Typical sources of information include web pages, television, radio, newspapers, and other printed materials. Public forums, highway signs, and emergency alert systems are also used to distribute information. The Commonwealth should evaluate whether coastal communities are adequately informed about coastal hazards and emergency management information before and during storm events. Coastal communities must be kept informed with up-to-date and accurate information and actions that government officials are requesting the public to take. Evacuation information, including route changes, especially needs to reach people during power outages.
The Policy Working Group investigated local and state government policies as well as the insurance industry. The working group developed seven recommendations, with the creation of a storm-resilient communities program identified as a priority by the CHC (Recommendation #9). In addition, the working group recommended that guidance be developed on executive orders that address coastal floodplains and barrier beaches (Recommendation #10), outreach be developed for homeowners about insurance options (Recommendation #11), incentives be provided for lower homeowners insurance premiums (Recommendations #12 and #13), and funding be sought for voluntary land acquisition (Recommendations #14 and #15).Storm-Resilient Communities Program
Smart growth is a way for communities to address coastal hazards issues and become more resilient to storms. Coastal smart growth is much more cost effective than paying for storm damage. However, many municipalities do not have the capacity to implement the comprehensive planning that is required to adopt smart growth measures. Often a municipality can find the capacity if a successful case study is available to demonstrate that their efforts will be effective and ultimately save time and money. The state should choose coastal communities, via a competitive process, that have some capacity to plan and implement smart growth measures to serve as models for a Storm-Resilient Communities Program. These model communities should be provided with funds and guidance to become more storm-resilient, ultimately serving as case studies for other communities.
Several state agencies are charged with managing activities in coastal areas. While there is communication between agencies, separate agency charges often make it difficult to effectively coordinate efforts and timelines. The implementation of certain state Executive Orders, such as 149 and 181, would improve with more effective interagency coordination. Both executive orders were intended to reduce vulnerability to coastal hazards, especially damage costs. Executive Order 149 provides guidance on the general use and development of floodplains. Executive Order 181 provides guidance specifically for development and management of barrier beaches. CZM is working with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) to draft a guidance document that addresses portions of Executive Order 181 and Executive Order 149. The final guidance document will provide the basis for consistent implementation and a simple tool to coordinate agency action.
Homeowners and Flood Insurance Outreach
Coastal homes are vulnerable to both wind and flood damage. Homeowners, however, often do not know that while wind loss is covered by their homeowners insurance policies, only the NFIP covers flood loss due to storm surge. Many homeowners insurers require a minimum wind percentage deductible and federal flood insurance as an underwriting requirement (Bowler, 2006). However, homeowners who are not required to carry insurance sometimes choose to go without it. Without adequate coverage, homeowners can face severe financial hardship in the event of wind or flood loss.
Homeowners Insurance Premiums and Coverage
The cost and availability of homeowners insurance through the voluntary market has become a major issue in coastal areas, largely due to national catastrophic events in the past 15 years and the revision of catastrophe models. These events and models have resulted in an overall increase in the cost of reinsurance. Private insurance companies either pass their increased costs along to policyholders, or reduce the number of policies in coastal areas. Insurance companies that remain in the voluntary market are protected to some degree by the Massachusetts Insurers Insolvency Fund (Guaranty Fund), which is a nonprofit, unincorporated legal entity that covers claims up to $300,000 when insurers become insolvent. Many companies, however, have not renewed policies, especially in the Cape and Islands region, where approximately 14,000 policies in 2004, 24,000 in 2005, and 5,300 in the first half of 2006 were not renewed (Bowler, 2006). Homeowners who cannot get insurance through the voluntary market often get policies through the Massachusetts Fair Access to Insurance Requirements (FAIR) Plan. Approximately 42% of the FAIR Plan is comprised of policies in coastal rating territories (Bowler, 2006). Insurance companies that make up the Massachusetts Property Insurance Underwriting Association (MPIUA) are concerned about this increase in FAIR Plan policies. If the FAIR Plan experiences an underwriting loss, the member companies of the MPIUA will be assessed for the claims (Bowler, 2006).
Voluntary Land Acquisition
Costs associated with storm damage are felt by residents, communities, and the state. Acquisition of storm-prone properties from willing sellers lessens future costs and produces benefits for the public. Public acquisition of coastal land protects habitats, provides public access, increases recreational opportunities, and may protect the quality and quantity of ground water as well. Massachusetts has several land acquisition programs at the state and local level. While all of the state programs are authorized to acquire vulnerable coastal properties, that is not necessarily their primary purpose. However, acquisition of key coastal properties can meet the needs of the programs while also mitigating coastal hazards. There are several ways for municipalities to acquire storm-prone properties. The Community Preservation Act (CPA) is funded with property taxes and can be used for acquisition and preservation of open space. The state and municipalities should acquire storm-prone properties to reduce the risk of storm damage and associated social and environmental costs.
Planning and Regulations
The Planning and Regulations Working Group explored planning and regulatory options at the local and state level. Development and implementation of hazard mitigation plans was identified as a top priority (Recommendation #16). Other recommendations from this working group include: developing controls on coastal construction (Recommendation #17), coordinating local permitting (Recommendation #18), developing performance standards for land subject to coastal storm flowage (LSCSF) (Recommendation #19), holding a coastal conference (Recommendation #20), and addressing transportation infrastructure and flooding issues (Recommendation #21).Hazard Mitigation Plans
Hazard mitigation planning and implementation of mitigation plans help coastal communities minimize damage from future storm events. Since communities are at different stages of planning, they should coordinate with and build upon existing efforts on the local, regional, state, and federal level. Hazard mitigation plans should include smart growth measures and address the potential impacts of climate change related sea-level rise. Development and implementation of hazard mitigation plans will also help communities participating in the Community Rating System (CRS) earn points toward flood insurance premium discounts for residents with NFIP policies.
CRS is a voluntary program administered by FEMA that provides incentives for communities to do specific flood protection activities. Presently, only 15 communities in Massachusetts participate in CRS. To promote the implementation of the hazard mitigation plans, communities should participate in CRS and develop RVAMs as part of their CRS efforts. A community receives credit points for approved activities, and the total number of credit points determines the discount that residents of that community receive on their flood insurance premiums. Discounts range from 5% to 45% of the premium. Participation in CRS may make communities eligible for grants to fund projects recommended in the hazard mitigation plans.
To ensure that coastal hazard mitigation plans are developed and implemented and that communities participate in CRS, the state should fund new staff positions dedicated to this goal. These new staff positions could be located in each of the CZM regions. As an alternative, the state should consider a one-to-one match with coastal communities to assist with the cost of plan implementation. The new Coastal Hazards Characterization Atlas from CZM will be useful in defining regional problems and identifying communities that can work together to develop and implement common CRS activities. Even with the Hazards Atlas, however, identifying and implementing CRS activities can be time and resource intensive. Communities that have developed coastal hazard mitigation plans should be eligible for state funding to assist with implementation of those plans.
The Board of Building Regulations and Standards is currently updating the State Building Code. The standards of the International Building Code are the starting point for consideration of potential revisions. In its update, the Board of Building Regulations and Standards should explore coastal construction options, consider mechanisms to address incremental renovations and expansions, and encourage the use of strategies to maintain the form and function of natural resources. The Board of Building Regulations and Standards, MassDEP, and CZM should encourage local building inspectors and conservation agents to work together to provide understandable advice to homeowners and commercial property owners about what can and cannot be built on coastal lots. Joint training of building inspectors and conservation agents should also be explored to integrate resource protection and building requirements on coastal properties.
Local Permit Coordination
Permitting of coastal structures is typically time-consuming and confusing for prospective builders. Many towns require a person seeking to build a structure in a coastal environment to deal with all relevant regulatory bodies independent of each other. There is often little communication between the various permitting authorities on the project, allowing for certain permits to be issued for projects before other issues are addressed. This lack of coordination allows for incomplete project review and promotes the inefficient use of resources. Coastal municipalities should coordinate project reviews of their various departments either through an informal process of coordination or a process set forth in by-laws.
For example, in some municipalities the Town Manager requires coordination between departments and uses a checklist to ensure that a proposed project is reviewed by the zoning board, board of health, conservation commission, planning board, fire department, and historical commission before permits are issued. Those departments with jurisdiction over the project have the opportunity to meet in a "Development Review Team Meeting" to decide how best to proceed in terms of the different requirements of each department. Coordination can result in a more streamlined process for the applicant and facilitate resolution of the issues of the various departments involved.
One specific topic that would benefit from more guidance from MassDEP and municipal-level coordination of project review is that of repairing septic systems in vulnerable coastal areas. In addition, MassDEP, CZM, and various local permitting authorities including conservation commissions and planning boards should work together to encourage the use of Low Impact Development techniques to preserve the flood control and storm damage prevention functions of coastal resources. This coordination should promote more complete and comprehensive understanding of a project and any related permits.
Land Subject to Coastal Storm Flowage
Coastal velocity zones (V-zone) and other high risk areas (A-zone) of LSCSF are vulnerable to hazardous flooding, wave impact, and, in some cases, significant rates of erosion as a result of storm wave impact and scour. V- and A-zones in coastal areas are generally subject to repeated storm damage, which can result in loss of life and property, increased public expenditures for storm recovery activities, taxpayer subsidies for flood insurance and disaster relief, and risks for personnel involved in emergency relief programs. Alteration of land surfaces in A-zones could change drainage characteristics that may cause increased flood damage on adjacent properties. Currently, performance standards have not been established for LSCSF in the Wetlands Protection Act regulations. MassDEP should work with a balanced group of stakeholders to evaluate the need for and feasibility of performance standards or best management practices for LSCSF. The performance standards or best management practices should address the flood control and storm damage prevention functions of LSCSF.
Municipal and state officials should stay informed of advancements in technology and coastal management strategies by interacting with colleagues at a biannual coastal conference in Massachusetts. The public should also be encouraged to attend this conference to increase awareness and support of coastal hazards issues. The proceedings from the conference should be transcribed or recorded to allow easy public access. While some of the expenses of the conference can be offset with in-kind donations, additional financial resources need to be secured to develop and execute a successful program, secure keynote speakers, and attract a broad audience. Potential partners for the conference include the Sea Grant Program, the University of Massachusetts Boston, a Massachusetts Chapter of the Floodplain Managers Association (which would need to be developed), and the Massachusetts Association of Conservation Commissions.
Transportation Infrastructure and Flooding
Transportation crossings of wetlands and waterways have contributed to flooding and resource impairment by altering hydrology and degrading wetland storm damage/flood protection and habitat functions. In coastal areas, existing bridges and culverts are often too small to pass normal floodwater or tidal flows, and without the critical influence of normal tides, upstream estuarine wetlands become degraded. Inland crossings may impound water, thereby exacerbating flooding and posing significant obstacles to fish and wildlife movement. Associated tide gates, which directly manage flood waters, are often not maintained or do not function as designed.
As existing crossings deteriorate and are scheduled for replacement by local municipalities and state agencies, numerous opportunities arise to correct past errors by modifying structural designs to reduce flooding and improve environmental conditions. To ensure that new transportation infrastructure does not impair the storm damage and flood protection of coastal resource areas, early stages of transportation project planning should evaluate the proximity of proposed projects to areas subject to storm damage, flooding, and tidal influence. Failure to identify these features early on can result in projects that have adverse impacts on natural buffers to hydraulic storage and flow and that compromise the storm protection provided to landward property, infrastructure, and natural resources. The resulting impacts of such projects can include loss of life and property, increased public expenditures for storm recovery activities, taxpayer subsidies for flood insurance and disaster relief, and risks for emergency personnel. To address issues associated with tide gate management, the Commonwealth should assign and provide funding for an agency to inventory, monitor, and oversee maintenance of tide gates to protect public safety and reduce flooding risks, similar in function to DCR Office of Dam Safety.
The Protection Working Group evaluated structural and nonstructural measures to control erosion and stabilize shorelines. The eight recommendations of the working group encompass regional sand management (Recommendations #22-26), a technical advisory committee on innovative erosion control measures (Recommendation #27), and the prioritization of public shoreline protection projects (Recommendations #28-29). Regional sand management, especially the identification and use of offshore sources of sediment for beach nourishment, is a priority of the CHC.Regional Sand Management
Extensive armoring and alteration of the Commonwealth's shorelines has, over time, contributed to a significant reduction in the amount of source sediment available to natural sand-sharing systems, resulting in increased erosion of beaches, dunes and barrier beaches, which increases vulnerability to the natural and built environment from coastal storms and flooding. With accelerating erosion rates and sea-level rise predicted to accelerate, regional sediment management will become even more important in the future. At the present time, sediment budget data that quantifies sources and sinks of sediment along the coast of Massachusetts are completely lacking. To better manage beaches for environmental and economic benefits, sediment budgets and regional sediment management are important. Additionally, a guidance document would help facilitate the siting and review of projects that balance the need for acquisition of clean, compatible sediment for beach nourishment with other interests.
Sand dredged from tidal inlets leading into harbors on Cape Cod is routinely pumped onto nearby eroding public beaches. However, this practice of beneficial re-use of dredged sand is not routinely carried out in other regions of Massachusetts. In particular, USACE uses the policy of "the least costly, environmentally acceptable dredged disposal alternative." This usually means nearshore disposal, not beach placement. Early coordination with the USACE and a dedicated fund to supplement their least costly alternative is necessary to get dredged sand pumped onto nearby beaches.
Technical Advisory Committee on Innovative Erosion Control Measures
Increasingly, coastal property owners, engineers, and manufacturers are advocating for coastal protection approaches that incorporate the use of "new and innovative" protection alternatives. Lack of actual performance and impact data, coupled with difficulties fitting such proposals into the existing regulatory framework, often make permitting difficult. Other states have established processes for reviewing innovative erosion control projects and may serve as models for Massachusetts. The list of potential benefits and impacts of established protection alternatives compiled by the Protection Working Group should be a valuable resource during the implementation of this recommendation (Appendix C).
Prioritization of Public Shoreline Protection Projects
Often during benefit-cost analyses for shoreline protection projects, environmental resources are undervalued or not considered at all. The current decision-making framework to prioritize funding of public shoreline protection projects could significantly benefit from an improved benefit-cost analysis that includes natural resources values, and economic data on the value of beaches to the Commonwealth. The results of these studies will allow for a comparative evaluation for competitive funding of public projects.