by Kristen E. Humphrey, MLA, Local Assistance and Training Planner
Due to the growing effects of climate change, many coastal areas around the country and world are facing problems exacerbated by sea level rise and intensified weather patterns. These include larger and more severe storms, and high tides which cause our cities, towns, as well as agricultural, forested, and natural areas to flood more frequently.
Some of the anticipated consequences affecting coastal areas include property damage, surface and groundwater resource contamination, and the negative impacts on recreational opportunities and wildlife habitats. With roughly 3,190 miles of shoreline1, Maryland is no exception. “For coastal Maryland towns, the future means dealing aggressively with flood risks,” says Lauren Kabler, North Beach Town Council Member.
In response to flooding in their communities, two small Maryland towns are planning for and mitigating current and future flood impacts. In November 2020, Chesapeake Beach and North Beach, neighboring towns along the Chesapeake Bay’s western shore in Calvert County, embarked on a collaborative effort, with assistance from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the University of Maryland Environmental Finance Center (EFC), to develop a multi-phase Flood and Sea Level Rise Action Plan. The goal is to “enhance their capacity to understand, plan, and implement projects that mitigate current and future flood impacts.”2
To learn more about this planning effort, I contacted Ms. Kabler, who formerly served as Secretary of the North Beach Stormwater and Flood Management Advisory Committee (SFMAC), prior to her recent appointment to the North Beach Town Council. (Responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.)
Q: What is the project/plan all about and who (what area / demographic, etc.) does it serve?
Sharing a common boundary and adjacent shorelines, the towns of Chesapeake Beach and North Beach were facing common threats associated with flooding and sea level rise. Their proximity to the Chesapeake Bay, Fishing Creek, and tidal wetland/marshes, in conjunction with a high water table and shoreline erosion, make them susceptible to tidal flooding. Their low-lying topography also makes certain areas susceptible to flooding caused by storms. Thus, it made sense to work together to develop common strategies and goals for addressing the issues.
The Action Plan consists of two phases. Phase I, which began last November, developed a Flood and Sea Level Rise Action Plan Framework that both towns will use to develop individual plans, geared to each town’s individual features and needs. Phase I was supported by DNR through Coastal Zone Management Program funding.
The framework, completed and approved by both Town Councils in April 2021, states that the purposes of the Flood and Sea Level Rise Action Plans are to: “identify and characterize nuisance flooding and flooding from larger storm events using the best available science; assess the vulnerability of specific geographic areas in the community; recommend mitigation and adaptation options tailored to each area to address sea level rise impacts including flooding; and prepare implementation strategies.”3
Phase II will involve each town developing parallel, but separate, Flood and Sea Level Rise Action Plans. During Phase II, each municipality will develop an action plan utilizing the common framework and other supporting information completed in Phase I.
The Town of North Beach is proud to announce that we received approval from DNR to begin developing our Action Plan on August 27. (See Town of North Beach press release in sidebar.)
Town of North Beach – Press Release Agust 27, 2021
August 27, 2021: The Town of North Beach received the go-ahead from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) last week on funding a comprehensive plan to address the flooding the community faces now and will confront in the future.
Funding for the plan comes via a $75,000 DNR grant that was formally awarded to the Town following a year-long effort to craft a framework for studying the risks from persistent flooding and the effects of climate change.
The framework, which was approved by the Town Council this spring, calls for assessing the Town’s short- and long-term coastal and stormwater flooding problems, identifying solutions to those problems, and recommending strategies for implementation.
Town officials are currently drafting proposals to engage a firm experienced in flood and climate mitigation to conduct this study, which is expected to be completed in 2022.
The year-long effort to develop the study framework was a joint effort by the North Beach Department of Public Works, a citizen’s advisory committee, and representatives from the University of Maryland’s Environmental Finance Center and the DNR. The Flood and Sea Level Rise Action Plan can be found at https://bit.ly/2Wl794O.
Q: What are the perceived needs in the community and what are the goals and projected outcomes of the project/plan?
A: Repetitive flooding inundates low-lying areas, especially streets, during storms and high tides. The flooding leads to public inconveniences such as road closures, disrupted daily activities, and property damage. Flooding washes debris into ditches and roadways and overwhelms storm drains. This repeat flooding further deteriorates infrastructure such as roads, sidewalks, driveways, bike paths, and the boardwalk.
Flooding also results in an increasing amount of polluted runoff to the Chesapeake Bay and adjacent wetlands. Sea level rise and increasing precipitation associated with climate change will only exacerbate current flooding problems and may necessitate more drastic flood mitigation measures over the long term.
Due to the rise in sea level, it is imperative that we immediately address tidal flooding and stormwater flooding, develop a plan that identifies solutions to minimize damage associated with coastal hazards, and protect ecological features and wetland mitigation areas.
Q: Who are the key partners (community groups, non-profit organizations, local and state agencies) involved with this project/program/initiative/plan?
A: Key external partners involved to date have included DNR, EFC, as well as the county and state. Key internal partners include the North Beach Stormwater and Flood Management Advisory Committee (SFMAC), North Beach Community Conservation Department, North Beach Department of Public Works, North Beach Marketing and Public Relations, the Mayor’s office, the Town Council, and the Maryland Department of Planning (Planning).
Q: Is there a lead entity/group?
A: In the Town of North Beach, the leads have been the Department of Public Works (DPW) and SFMAC. Future external partners will include a private firm experienced in flood and climate change mitigation that the town will contract under the Phase II to develop a flood and sea level rise action plan.
Q: How has the state, and Planning in particular, assisted?
A: The project is being funded by DNR at a little over $100,000 for both Phase I and II. Experienced Southern Maryland Regional Planner, Sarah Lipkin Sularz of the Maryland Department of Planning, has been extremely responsive, engaged, and helpful in terms of navigating and providing input on the planning process, breaking roadblocks, and offering feedback and comments on a wide variety of documents, ranging from meeting minutes – to the Flood Action Plan framework itself.
Q: How long have plans for your project been in the works, from initial concept until the present?
A: These efforts have been in the works since 2018. The Initial concept was developed by a citizen’s action group, created that year in response to unaddressed flooding. It has evolved from there, resulting in establishing SFMAC and our pending development of a flood and sea level rise action plan.
Q: What has been the largest hurdle to overcome in this process?
A: To be honest, we’ve been very fortunate, thus far, but that can be attributed to having a very supportive Mayor and Town Council and the receipt of state grant funds.
Q: Is there an anticipated publication/completion date?
A: The Flood and Sea Level Rise Plan for the town of North Beach will be completed by summer 2022.
Q: What type of related developments do you foresee this project/plan may spur in the future?
A: We hope we can leverage the plan to obtain federal, state, local, and blended funds necessary to implement the recommendations in the plan.
Q: Which groups/partners will be advancing the project going forward?
A: DPW and SFMAC will take the lead on identifying and soliciting such funds for the Town of North Beach.
Q: What lessons learned would you share with other communities and stakeholders seeking to embark on a similar project/plan?
A: There are many! Here are some of my recommendations based on our experience:
- Get support from town [or city] leaders (i.e., Mayor, Town Council). We have their support and, to date, it has been critical to our achievements.
- You need active and dedicated volunteers who are representative of and serve as a proxy for the community. Volunteers can also fill resource gaps that exist in any small town or other community.
- Solicit and obtain the assistance of knowledgeable and experienced outside entities, like EFC and Planning, as well as seek input from other jurisdictions that are farther along in the planning process, such as Oxford or Annapolis. For us, they have been very helpful in terms of navigating/learning about plan development, how to obtain funding for plan development and implementation, various engineering solution options, and other considerations.
- Educate and engage the public – success depends on an invested community! As part of our process, it was essential to create a draft Education and Community Engagement plan
- Find a strong leader, or leaders, who can articulate the community’s short- and long-term vision, have good communication skills, and have the ability to motivate, energize (and keep energized!) a team of volunteers. The leader(s) can be internal or external to the town/municipality or can be co-leaders.
To learn more about the Chesapeake Beach and North Beach Flood and Sea Level Rise Action Plans and planning process, please visit SFMAC’s webpage or contact Donnie Bowen, Director, North Beach Department of Public Works at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For assistance in beginning a similar planning project, please contact Sarah Lipkin Sularz, Southern Maryland Regional Planner, Maryland Department of Planning at email@example.com.