Gulf Coast Resilient Communities

Mississippi

Grant Type:
2010 Regional Planning Category 1

Grant Amount:
$2,000,000

Lead Organization:
Gulf Regional Planning Commission

ABOUT THE REGION
The Mississippi Gulf Coast suffered a series of catastrophic disasters over the last ten years leading to severe economic, environmental and social distress that cannot be measured simply by income loss or unemployment. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated the Mississippi Gulf Coast, surpassing the 1,000-year flood plain in many areas, destroying more than 52,000 housing units. Post-Katrina rebuilding has been characterized by flight to the north from the older, historically densely populated areas. Meanwhile, large employment centers and public transit service remain primarily located in the south. The result is longer commutes to jobs, a rapid increase in vehicle miles traveled, poor access to essential community facilities, and lack of employment opportunities for those without transportation access. All of these factors have contributed to decreased livability and an increased cost of living for many of the coast’s residents (90% of coastal households have a housing/transportation cost greater than 45% of household income).

The national recession took hold just as the region was beginning to rebuild infrastructure and expand critical community facilities to new growth areas. The financial crisis brought housing construction to a near standstill due to an inability to obtain financing. Rebuilding has taken place unequally, with many vulnerable populations left behind in the rebuilding process. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill offered the third devastating blow to the coast. The oil spill substantially affected tourism and mariculture industry employment, in addition to the environmental impacts. The coast has historically been a major producer of local foods, particularly shrimp, oysters, and crabs. In 2004, 17.6 million pounds of shrimp were landed in Mississippi with a value of more than $25 million. However, after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Mississippi Sound became closed waters with prohibitions on harvesting of shrimp and other seafood. The devastation of the mariculture industry has disproportionately affected the Vietnamese-American community, for whom the fishing industry has served as an economic foundation.

PROJECT SUMMARY AND GOALS
Plan for Opportunity, completed in 2013, was the first regional comprehensive plan that encompassed the entire three counties of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The plan addressed housing, transportation, land use, economic development and workforce, water and food. The challenges were many, including planning fatigue, differing local priorities, skepticism of sustainability as a basis for study and planning, and constraints on time commitments; but the biggest challenge was to create a planning process that engaged many people from diverse backgrounds and organizations.

At this time, the Mississippi Development Authority, the state’s economic development agency, has decided to take a leadership role to advance resiliency planning in redevelopment of resilient home building, stormwater infrastructure and the oyster industry. The stormwater system will address upstream and downstream water quality, environmental degradation and inadequate capacities resulting from discharge, land use controls, design and engineering problems. A sustainable oyster industry has been severely compromised and the implementation of resilient strategies to restore its productivity is crucial to the economic and environmental recovery of the coast. The Gulf Coast Resilient Communities Team is working with the state and other stakeholders on HUD’s National Disaster Resilience Competition application to build on the work of the Plan for Opportunity.

THE CHALLENGES AHEAD
One of the most significant risks related to climate and resilience to the Mississippi coast is its vulnerability to surge
and flooding. The issues related to achieving resilience are:

  • How/when to assess risk/vulnerability.
  • Highly technical, data-centric assessment tools and vulnerability metrics, difficult for lay people to understand.
  • Need for more information to tie the cost of not doing the assessment to the benefit of implementing resilient strategies.
  • Lack of knowledge and understanding of the systems that frame a comprehensive regional risk/vulnerability assessment – transportation, housing, economic development, stormwater, etc.

The coast is taking a proactive approach to addressing these issues. These efforts include resilience workshops that focus on the topical areas of transportation, housing, water, food and economic development and workforce, ongoing community index workshops across the coast, and applying online tools to use consistent data and engage stakeholders on the potential risks of climate change.

PROMISING PRACTICES OR INNOVATIONS

  • Established a resiliency committee to expand the sustainability planning and identified sustainability recommendations that meet goals of resilience.
  • Used scenario modeling and resilience goals in the long-range transportation plan.
  • Resilient housing constructed by Habitat for Humanity.
  • Food waste task force established in Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.
  • Regional floodplain managers association created tools, including:
  • Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium Community Resilience Index implemented along the coast.
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration online coastal exposure mapping tool used by regional planners.