Incorporating into planning efforts in North Carolina
Northeastern North Carolina is bound by a barrier island system that borders the Atlantic Ocean and connects to the Albemarle-Pamlico Estuary, the second largest in North America. The region’s economy is driven by tourism, natural resources, and recreation. In the eastern most community of unincorporated Dare County, more than 90% of the privately-owned lands are located in the 100-year floodplain and are vulnerable to flooding. As development has increased, the natural floodplain functions provided by habitats like open spaces and marshes have been compromised or lost, putting communities along the coastline at increased risk. Recognizing the region’s need to find climate adaptation solutions, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) prioritized this area for Coastal Resilience; an approach that considers the economic and ecological benefits of nature-based solutions when planning for growth and adaptation.
Stakeholders prioritized the need for support to more effectively utilize the National Flood Insurance Program’s (NFIP) Community Rating System (CRS) to reduce their community’s insurance premiums. CRS is a voluntary program administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that provides communities with discounts on their flood insurance premiums for activities that reduce flood risk. However, identifying feasible flood risk reduction opportunities and navigating the complex program is overwhelming for many communities.
The Conservancy identified the CRS Activity – Open Space Preservation, as the most complementary and effective area within the CRS program for the Coastal Resilience approach. The Nature Conservancy worked with several communities in Northeastern North Carolina to develop the Community Rating System Explorer application (CRS Explorer app), an online decision support tool meant to estimate open space benefits and empower planners to fully participate in CRS.
The tool helps planners identify areas that are eligible for Open Space Preservation (OSP) credits, estimate how those credits could impact a community’s total points, and prioritize unprotected parcels that may be most beneficial to protect for the future. The app also provides exportable maps and parcel information, which enables planners to more effectively prepare for their CRS review, engage decision makers, and influence land management decisions.
The CRS Explorer app enables planners to prioritize nature-based solutions to reduce flood risk, lower insurance rates, and improve community resilience. CRS Explorer app helped verify on average 300 Open Space Preservation credits across 7 communities in NC, allowing some to improve a class which results in an additional 5% off flood insurance premiums for policy holders in the floodplain. The tool provides a mechanism to start a dialogue on incorporating nature-based solutions into a community’s toolbox when dealing with coastal hazards, and has sparked additional opportunities to partner with Esri, NOAA and FEMA.
The tool provides spatial analysis and mapping capacity that has acted as a mechanism to help re-energize communities that were previously less active in flood risk reduction efforts and the Community Rating System. By listening and identifying a need together, we developed a tool that works for a community’s existing needs and processes to accomplish something that is much more fruitful – a tool that starts a dialogue on incorporating nature-based solutions into a community’s toolbox when dealing with coastal hazards. The tool is being expanded to one additional County in NC and to a Gulf Coast Community. Following the success in northeast North Carolina, TNC plans to leverage the CRS Explorer nationally to reach the more than 22,000 communities across the US who are currently participating in the National Flood Insurance Program.