Building Resilience – There’s no “i” in Team

Greater Working Together

First Swansboro team meeting. Photo: Lora Eddy/TNC

Teaming up with NC Sea Grant and Division of Coastal Management (DCM), The Nature Conservancy (TNC) helped the Town of Swansboro and citizens identify opportunities in their land use plan update to address future risks like sea level rise and increased precipitation. 

Nowadays resilience building is happening in many disciplines.  So, in North Carolina, TNC knew it was not alone.  Upon launching the Coastal Resilience project in nearby Dare County and building this online mapping tool, TNC was reaching out to potential partners and communities for ways to complement ongoing work.  

NC Sea Grant and the North Carolina Division of Coastal Management were two likely partners. Sea Grant was already tackling how to plan for sea level rise and climate change through a facilitated planning process and public engagement in a nearby community.  DCM was working with 5 coastal communities to assess resilience planning needs and jump start their vulnerability mapping. 

When the Town of Swansboro approached DCM about addressing future hazards in their land use plan update, the three groups saw an opportunity to leverage their efforts and the team came together. 

Hurricane Florence Hits Swansboro

A visioning or scenario planning process can be abstract and hard to move through, but Hurricane Florence’s landfall in North Carolina on September 14, 2018 presented the community of Swansboro with real life experience in extreme rainfall, when thirty-four inches of rain, and heavy winds, hit this small community.

The hurricane happened in the middle of the resilience planning effort.  Town offices as well as many homes and businesses had storm damage, but on November 19, 2018 the community and town staff came together and held the final resilience meeting, a public input event.  The team’s work had to move quickly from kick-off in May to this public workshop, to match the town’s land use plan update. 

Following Hurricane Florence’s September 2018 landfall; Swansboro’s workshop in November gave the public a chance to think about future risk and provide their input. Photo: Tancred Miller/DCM

The public visited three stations: 

  1. Informational Posters – Where they viewed data from the National Climate Assessment, NOAA Beaufort tide gauge, and Southeast Regional Climate Center on current and future impacts from climate change. In Swansboro increased rainfall and sea level rise will result in stormwater management challenges as well as challenges to their historic downtown and waterfront.
  2. Asset map station – The public added to the map areas of frequent flooding, important community assets, and socially vulnerable areas.
  3. Sticker voting activity – The public brainstormed and voted on potential actions the town and community could take to adapt and reduce risk to climate change impacts.

Resilient – Are we there yet?

One of the ideas that rose to the top of this big picture exercise was conservation of coastal areas, wetlands, and floodplains, and clustering development away from these areas as a resiliency strategy. So how are they proposing to protect these areas? The town is using zoning – a Conservation Priority Area (CPA) overlay that reduces development density/intensity to direct growth and public infrastructure away from these environmentally significant areas. 

The Town of Swansboro’s Future Land Use map with Conservation Priority Area Overlay.

Swansboro is a charming small town with a walk-able waterfront with shopping and restaurants  and historic character that attracts tourists.  Who wouldn’t want to live here?  Plus, the region has great access to the water, fishing, and scenic views.  The challenge will be to incentivize development and engage community level action to support this policy and implement it.  It takes a village.  The collaborative team and community engagement created through this process will be working to bring it home.