America’s WETLAND Foundation’s Blue Ribbon Resilient Communities

During 2011 and 2012, America’s WETLAND Foundation (AWF) and its America’s Energy Coast partners, a diverse group of environmental and conservation organizations, major businesses, industries, scientists and researchers, conducted a series of leadership forums, focus groups and interviews with more than 1,100 stakeholders in communities across the Gulf Coast. This initiative, Blue Ribbon Resilient Communities, convened forums in eleven communities from Texas to Florida to bring leaders together to push political and parochial boundaries, assess local vulnerabilities and better plan for greater Gulf-wide resiliency. In advance of each Blue Ribbon forum, the Foundation conducted a focus group and a series of interviews. Respondents in both cases were asked to discuss their community’s values and rate their community’s performance on a number of resiliency indicators. Combined responses and ratings generated a resiliency index for each community. This outreach and engagement empowered the region to sustain its diverse cultural, economic and ecological values in the face of coastal degradation by connecting elected officials and state administrative leaders and providing a forum to discuss and outline authentic solutions. At the conclusion of each Blue Ribbon forum, community leaders generated a findings report with specific recommendations to improve resiliency and adaptation planning, which have begun to impact State and Federal policies.

To further this effort, AWF and Entergy Corporation commissioned a multimillion-dollar study to quantify the value of Gulf Coast assets and better empower communities to address their specific vulnerabilities. The study demonstrated how rising sea levels, fiercer and more frequent hurricanes and environmental degradation over the next 20 years could result in $350 billion in losses across the four energy-producing Gulf States of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama – collectively known as America’s Energy Coast. The study used zip-code level data to pinpoint potential damages in individual communities, giving local leaders an opportunity to assess their situation and plan for a more sustainable future. AWF’s transparent process included multiple layers of local feedback from policymakers, agency officials, business leaders, concerned citizens and the gamut of professionals on the front lines, from environmental managers, public works officials and engineers to utilities workers, farmers and fishermen. The study alerted communities that potentially difficult trade-offs might be required, sooner than later, to adapt to the rising tide.

The Blue Ribbon Resilient Communities initiative has culminated in two important reports. Findings from the AWF and Entergy Corporation study were released in a report titled Building a Resilient Energy Gulf Coast. During September 2012, recommendations outlined in this report were presented to Congress, the White House and leaders across the Gulf Coast. AWF released a second report in September 2012, titled Beyond Unintended Consequences: Adaptation for Gulf Coast Resiliency and Sustainability. It offers 30 recommendations for Gulf Coast sustainability based on the research and testimony gathered from the series of leadership forums held throughout the region during the 14-month period in 2011 and 2012.