Kinston, a city of about 20,000 in Lenoir County, North Carolina, suffered repeated flood losses during the 1990s. After Hurricanes Fran, Dennis, and Floyd damaged or flooded more than 75 percent of the county’s homes, the community embarked upon a comprehensive approach to improve resilience. Flood-prone properties were purchased, and whole neighborhoods were relocated to higher ground. As a result, natural floodplain functions were restored, and the purchase of the first 100 homes saved approximately $6 million in avoided flood losses during the next big storm.
Kinston’s experience provided many valuable lessons. Principal among them was discovering the community’s ability to transform disasters into an opportunity to do something bold and enduring, reducing risk in perpetuity.
- Be proactive with pre-disaster preparation. Acquisitions were very slow in the wake of Hurricane Fran, taking over a year just to put together a funding application. When Hurricane Floyd hit three years later, the community had developed a pre-disaster project application package, which they promptly submitted. One week after the storm, their application for additional buyout funds was approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the State of North Carolina.
- Use GIS for analysis and outreach. Kinston used GIS methods not just as analytical tools to guide decisions related to the buyout and relocation recovery effort, but also as an outreach tool to engage citizens, understand the needs of vulnerable populations, and build support for the initiative. The information provided through the GIS maps was a key tool in garnering public support for relocation, which was entirely voluntary.
- Weigh buyout and relocation pros and cons. Residents that opted for relocation remain satisfied with this choice a decade later, but there is some sense of loss for the old neighborhoods, such as Lincoln City, a close-knit, historically black neighborhood. The community also struggles with the restricted use of the floodplain. Community support and funding have been lacking for permissible uses such as those proposed in the green infrastructure plans. A small but vocal group would like to see something more substantial, perhaps income generating, occur in the floodplain. The city advises others undertaking similar projects to be aware of and consistently communicate with its citizens about the restrictions, which are placed on the properties in perpetuity.
- Pick solutions that avoid new problems. Kinston’s comprehensive approach integrated smart growth, green infrastructure, and hazard mitigation principles. Officials were deliberate about demonstrating the self-reinforcing benefits of moving people and development outside of the floodplain, relocating residents with minimal impact on the landscape, and allowing the protected lands to provide natural flood control. By drawing in these principles throughout the process, Kinston was able to avoid unintended consequences like sprawl, loss of open space, and impacts to water quality.