By Bailey Shea
Research project suggests need to enhance Georgia’s coastal resiliency efforts
In my time as a Vinson Fellow in the Institute’s Planning and Environmental Services unit, I have researched a critical topic that will affect many Georgians in the coming decades—coastal resiliency and flood mitigation. More specifically, I explored the need and demand for Federal Emergency Management Agency property buyouts on Georgia’s coast. I have gained invaluable research skills and meaningful connections, and have seen just how much local government matters when it comes to keeping communities thriving in a changing climate.
In the wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, I began the semester wanting to do an economic comparison of the costs of FEMA property acquisitions compared to year-after-year rebuilding costs on Skidaway Island, focusing on The Landings planned community. It turned out that things aren’t so cut-and-dried.
First, I learned about the larger problem of the inefficiencies to the National Flood Insurance Program and the way buyout programs are administered across the United States. I saw that buyout programs vary from state to state, and discovered that Chatham County has experienced several buyouts this decade.
I’ve done a lot with the resources and connections I’ve had in my time here: I’ve talked with Michael Blakely, the sole floodplain administrator for Chatham County about the realities of his work; used FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant Program records to identify properties in Georgia that have been acquired since 2000; and used flood zone maps and GIS resources to view lands that have been affected. I’ve made connections in Georgia and New York, and I’ve learned a lot about research, particularly when looking at local systems in government.
In 30 or 40 years, more and more homes will be subject to repetitive flooding on the coast. Just as Florida, Texas and Louisiana prepare for flooding by working to improve the buyout process, Georgia will need to as well. I’ve concluded that there is a need in Georgia need to streamline the property acquisition application process—in addition to other mitigation grant applications—at the state level. It is also vital to include the possibility of property acquisitions in local policy discussions and long-term strategic planning when possible.
In addition to all of the people and resources that helped me along the way, I am grateful for Leigh Elkins, who has been incredible faculty mentor; I could not have asked for a better leader and advisor. I am also grateful to the Institute for providing me with such an incredible opportunity to conduct meaningful research, gain experience with local and state governments and better prepare me for a future in environmental policy research.
Bailey Shea, a senior honors student from Bogart, is majoring in economics with a concentration in public policy and sustainability. She is a member of the Parking and Transportation Services Student Advisory Board and Phi Beta Kappa and as past president of Students for Environmental Action successfully procured funding for the ReCYCLE Program on campus. She is currently an intern with the UGA Office of Sustainability. Her research interests include analyzing the intersection of economic and environmental development decisions and their impact creating sustainable communities.