Shore & Beach – Journal of the american shore and beach preservation association

Volume 85 | Spring 2017 | Number 2

Meeting Local Needs for Guidance on Future Coastal Hazards at the New Hampshire Shoreline
By: Kirsten Howard and Roger W. Stephenson


Following a successful bipartisan effort to legislatively establish the New Hampshire Coastal Risk and Hazards Commission (commission) and three years of dedicated work, the commission released its final report and recommendations in December 2016. The science-based recommendations provide a road map for state agencies, the state Legislature, and coastal municipalities as they prepare for and adapt to projected increases in coastal flooding from storm surge, sea-level rise, and extreme precipitation. The commission recommends strategies to protect, adapt, and sustain the coastal NH economy, built landscape, natural resources, and heritage. Three key factors enabled the commission’s success: 1) a clear need demonstrated at the local level; 2) strong leadership and a commitment to real collaboration and good process; and 3) a focus on decision-making under uncertainty. By the 1 December 2016 sunset date, the commission unanimously agreed upon a summary of historical and projected coastal flood trends based on best available science and unanimously adopted a final report and set of recommendations. Within the same timeframe, commission members supported bills that resulted in two successful pieces of state legislation, ensuring implementation of key recommendations. Finally, the commission’s process created an informed and dedicated set of leaders in multiple sectors and facets of government on issues of future coastal risk and hazards in New Hampshire. Some of the most novel and challenging to implement commission recommendations emphasize understanding the ecosystem services provided by coastal natural resources and developing adaptation strategies that both protect those resources and mimic natural processes and ecosystems in order to protect the built landscape. Many municipalities are already ahead on some of the locally targeted recommendations, and in fact, their experiences helped inform the recommendation development. In one example of this municipal leadership, the town of Durham is addressing several built landscape and natural resources commission recommendations through a green infrastructure — living shoreline — design for erosion control and sea-level rise protection on a culturally-valuable public recreation and conservation property.