Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Spending and Market-Based Tools to Address Sea-Level Rise in Hawaii (Part 3)

From: Honolulu Civil Beat

Editor's note: This is the final installment of a three-part series on how Hawaii should address climate change and sea-level rise.

Part 1 of this editorial series introduced climate change and sea-level rise adaptation and highlighted three major recommendations for state action to facilitate preparations for sea-level rise. Part 2 discussed planning and regulatory tools for initiating sea-level rise adaptation in Hawai‘i at the state and county level. This segment discusses spending and market-based tools and provides a conclusion to this three-part series.

Spending Tools

  • Capital Improvement Programs. Hawai‘i state and local governments provide funding for capital improvement programs (CIPs) to invest in transportation, schools, parks, and other public projects. By executive order or legislation, the state could require state agencies to consider a range of sea-level rise scenarios when siting and designing CIPs, similar to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ method for planning and developing its civil works programs. This would promote public safety and efficient use of taxpayer dollars.

  • Land Acquisitions and Conservation Easements. The state Legacy Land Conservation Program, often in partnership with private and non-profit land trusts, acquires and conserves land for public purposes such as watershed protection, beach access, protection of cultural and historical sites, habitat protection, parks and recreation, and agriculture. When selecting acquisition and conservation lands, decision-makers could consider areas vulnerable to inundation due to flooding and sea-level rise, which could protect public health and safety while also preserving open space along the shoreline.

Market-Based Tools

  • Mandatory Real Estate Disclosures. State law requires sellers of residential real property to disclose certain material facts, such as flood insurance and utility bill information, to prospective buyers. For coastal real property sales, the law could require disclosure of available site-specific erosion and sea-level rise information (i.e., data and maps). This approach would allow prospective buyers to better weigh the costs and benefits of obtaining property located in hazardous areas.

  • Transfer of Development Rights Programs. Transfer of development rights (TDR) programs allow landowners to sell their rights to develop properties located where development is less desirable (in this case, makai areas) to individuals owning properties located where development is more desirable (in this case, mauka areas). Buyers may use credits to exceed building requirements such as density, floor area, and height. Maui County is currently considering a TDR program to acquire shoreline lands and encourage landward development. Other counties could likewise research and consider TDR programs for sea-level rise adaptation. This approach, as opposed to a strictly regulatory approach, could fulfill planning goals for retreat while also addressing coastal property owner concerns regarding property rights and values.

  • Tax Incentives. Various state laws incentivize renewable energy and energy efficiency to reduce climate emissions and dependency on imported oil. To encourage sea-level rise adaptation, the state could incentivize landward relocation, retrofitting that increases flood resiliency, siting new development in upland areas, and conserving open space and natural flood buffers along the shoreline.


Adaptation to sea-level rise requires leadership and bold action by Hawai‘i state and local governments. Decision-makers can utilize a wide range of policy tools and measures to shape Hawai‘i’s plans for coastlines over the coming decades. Some tools — such as shoreline construction setbacks, zoning, capital improvement programs, and mandatory real estate disclosures — are well established and widely employed. With the necessary data and maps, decision-makers can integrate these policy tools to prepare appropriately.

Emerging and innovative approaches to sea-level rise adaptation such as rolling easements statutes and TDR programs, though not commonly applied in Hawai‘i, offer robust and flexible options for planners and decision-makers. When facing barriers and political opposition to implementing these measures, decision-makers could consider how inaction would negatively impact public health and safety and Hawai‘i’s unique natural and cultural resources.

Several factors outside the Hawai‘i state and local regulatory scheme also could influence sea-level rise adaptation. For example, the private insurance industry is currently assessing climate change impacts on policies for weather-related damage, which could affect coverage and rates in hazard-prone areas such as Florida. Additionally, if the Federal Emergency Management Agency updates Flood Insurance Rate Maps to incorporate climate change sea-level rise projections, many state and county regulations also would require updates.

Climate change presents some of the greatest and most complex challenges of our time. Regardless of how we address climate change and sea-level rise, we must bear in mind that our approaches will require flexibility to accommodate new science and information as well as collaboration across many sectors and disciplines. With strong leadership and careful planning backed by best-available science, Hawai‘i could serve as a global model of sound hazard resiliency for present and future generations.

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