The Acadian Peninsula Project centers around adaptability to sea level rise, coastal erosion and storm surges. The Acadian Peninsula District Planning Commission used a series of computer-generated maps that depicted the probable sea level rise over a series of years, likely flooding based on storm surges and coastline alteration based on erosion trends as a basis to involve citizens in coastal land-use problem solving. The three municipalities researched are Le Goulet, Shippagan and Bas-Caraquet, all in the Canadian Province of New Brunswick. The project first intended to identify infrastructure that is at risk due to sea level rise in order to allow municipalities to better prepare for future changes. Second, the project used community focus groups to get community input and buy-in on a zoning scheme for each municipality.
Le Goulet, Shippagan and Bas-Caraquet are three small coastal municipalities in the Canadian Province of New Brunswick. The municipalities are mostly rural and range in population from eight hundred to three-thousand people, most of whom are farmers and anglers. Since Canada does not have a federal zoning plan for coastal communities, plans for their maintenance and development start at the local level. Many larger communities can afford land-planners to aid in development plans, but municipalities as small as these cannot afford such tailored services. Thus, the Canadian Federal Government issued funds for researching and implementing zoning plans for coastal communities at risk of erosion, sea level rise and storm surges.
Through independent consultants, the Acadian Peninsula District Planning Commission generated digital images of sea level rise and possible coastal degradation based on typical erosion and storm surges. These images are broken down by area and time increments by year (2025, 2055, 2085, and 2100.) The images also emphasized areas that currently exhibit common flooding and how the problem exacerbates in the future. Furthermore, the images helped create a database of infrastructure that will be at risk due to future sea conditions.
Educate Municipal Councils
Researchers used the above information to reach out to the municipalities to educate them about the findings of the study and make recommendations for planning around future conditions. In the initial stage of introduction, the municipal councils were merely informed about how the research would be progressing in the near future and why the project was being implemented.
Generate Recommendations in “Participatory Groups”
Next, researchers set up a “participatory group” in each municipality, which consisted of local individuals from various backgrounds and age groups. The purpose of these groups was to get varied perspectives about land-use and planning from citizens from a wide variety of backgrounds and ages. The over-arching goal of the participatory groups was to generate recommendations for land-use and coastal development in response to what the group learned from the computer-generated images and based on their personal experience. This process also generated more community buy-in, as a plan that was generated by a local group of people under consensus.
Researchers met with the participatory groups from each municipality four times. During the first meeting, the Acadian Peninsula District Planning Commission explained the function of the graphs and how they were generated. Researchers were worried that some of the information would scare members of the groups; thus, for every problem that they introduced during the process, they also introduced the concept there were available solutions to solve the problem. To gain additional trust in the research, participatory groups were also asked to view the projections based on their personal experience and notice that many of the forecasts for storm surges and erosion were easily supported already. Group members were asked to keep both the process and the information created under the study private until the release of the recommendations.
The second meeting with the groups introduced more projections and began the process of gathering recommendations. The District Planning Commission wanted the recommendations to be a product of what municipality members believed to be the best solutions, not just choose what the Commission thought was the best approach. Thus, as each problem became apparent based on the data, solutions were created and voted on until there was a consensus.
During meetings three and four, concrete recommendations began to arise from the groups. One such recommendation was that risk zones should be added to the existing local zoning ordinances. This way, future planners can view exactly what risks they face from rising sea level, erosion and storm surges early in the development process. Additionally, the groups recommended that some coastal zones should have strict limitations placed on development and other high-risk zones should be closed entirely. The group recommended a bright line approach to all future coastal development by requiring that all construction happen above the “flood level.” This level represents where sea level rise is likely to be by the year 2055 in conjunction with the erosion and storm surge generated by a 100-year storm. Lastly, the participatory groups recommended that a citizen group of some kind should be kept in place to monitor climate change conditions and make future recommendations as needed.
Use Recommendations to Generate Policy
The Acadian Peninsula District Planning Commission is now publicly releasing the recommendations created by the research and group studies. Since zoning regulations come from the municipal level in New Brunswick, the Commission is relying on local politicians to use the information and take steps to make policy based on the recommendations. There is also an on-going effort to foster a joint approach to the problem by having local political leaders from Le Goulet, Shippagan and Bas-Caraquet work together on policy changes.
The District Planning Commission and project researchers believe that the best approach to educate municipalities about sea level rise, erosion and storm surges is to involve the citizens of the municipality as early in the process as possible. They believe that including municipality citizens early during the process creates more buy-in on the recommended changes and generates a platform off which climate change policy can be launched. Through a process of transparency and cooperation, the Commission identified coastal land-use problems and viable zoning solutions for all three municipalities.
Researcher Project Manager
Coastal Areas Research Institute Inc.