Integrated Coastal Zone Management

chaotic traffic jams during evacuation

Traffic Jams during hurricane evacuation. Photo courtesy of the U.S Coast Guard

Government jurisdictions are rarely aligned along watershed or ecosystem boundaries, much less areas defined as  “coastal zones.” It is widely recognized that integrated management across jurisdictional boundaries is necessary for effective implementation of disaster response. However, this trans-jurisdictional integrated management rarely occurs.

The practice of integrated coastal zone management (ICZM), like ecosystem-based management and watershed management, is a quest for holistic management that integrates biophysical and social  issues within coherent physical geographic zones.  ICZM remains a largely unfulfilled quest, in spite of some impressive progress in the last couple of decades. But the concept remains viable and most practitioners and even governments agree ICZM is a goal to strive for.

ICZM: An Unfulfilled Quest

The problem of why ICZM is not as far along as many think it should be comes down, perhaps, to the issue of governance. The development of effective plans for dealing with disasters requires a delicate balance between local autonomy and federal and state mandates. This review suggests that a strong federal or state mandate for effective plans coupled with strong local autonomy to carry out the planning has resulted in the most effective plans.

It appears that few city or county governments have the political will to carry out effective plans that require substantial changes in land use, for example. Most local communities in the Gulf Coast region have some home rule powers. Few, if any, are going to give up their autonomy to regional planning agencies — no matter how high-minded the governing principles might be. On the other hand, if they are required to develop plans that make hard choices, local governments are fully capable of doing so, and in fact usually come up with better plans than would be developed and imposed by state or federal entities.

Can Regional Planning Really Work?

Integrated regional planning is not an alien concept on the Gulf Coast. Regional Councils of Governments (COGs), for example, cover the area, and promote regional planning. There are Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) for the major cities that deal with transportation planning issues. There are River Authorities and Water Management Districts all along the coast, with service areas that overlap with any number of local governments. Voluntary watershed partnerships, which promote interagency collaboration and greater public stakeholder involvement, are becoming much more common. Several National Estuary Program projects being implemented along the coast promote integrated  management of coastal natural resources.

Florida has one of the more interesting complexes of overlapping councils and districts: 11 regional planning councils, 26 MPOs, and 5 regional water management districts, all with varying degrees of authority and review power. Do they all add up to Integrated Coastal Zone Management — probably not, yet!  That truly effective plans have yet to be developed even in Florida suggests that all the steps in the dance of effective governance have yet to be worked out. The fact remains, however, that some of the best plans come from Florida, which suggests that balancing strong state mandates and local autonomy might be one of the main steps in the dance.

Progressing ICZM on the Gulf Coast

The lesson of this analysis is that ICZM will work best when it recognizes the primacy of local government, coupled  with the need for very strong federal and state mandates. The balance that ICZM seeks in terms of environmental, economic, social, cultural, and recreational objectives will not take place unless a balance is struck between local, state, and federal governance. Adaptation to climate change will clearly not occur by edict alone. There needs to be strong leadership from the federal government for dealing with current and future disasters. That leadership needs to be funneled through the states that in turn impose mandates on local governments while giving them full authority to adapt plans to local conditions.

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