3. For Low-Income Localities that meet the standards in the Definitions section of this document, the following requirements shall apply: Item d. should read - Projects where 60%-89% is nature-based/green infrastructure- Fund 65%/Match 35%
Dear Members of the Committee on the Virginia Community Flood Preparedness Fund,
I urge you to consider strengthening your fund requirements to be inclusive of other hazards. While flooding is your priority for this fund, a flood-only approach severely limits the ability for you to encourage broader resilience thinking in grant applications. For example, there are numerous ways to address flooding AND extreme heat within the same project.
Given the projected increase in extreme heat in the region and the fact that extreme heat has a much greater (20x) mortality impact, it is important that any funding consider this near-term challenge. There are nationwide and global efforts to raise heat/health risk awareness, more so in coastal areas where humidity can create a dangerous environment for many outdoor workers and tourists.
Take a look at NOAA's National Heat Health Information network and the Global Heat Health network. Also look to NOAA's HeatWatch program as well. The challenge is far more life-threatening, more immediate than sea level rise, more consistent and pernicious than storm surge and more likely to affect much broader parts of the regional population. The data are available for the region and the mitigation and adaptation options are well understood, but not yet taken.
This is a simple ask to add language on the issue to the manual and the various socialization exercises, and to raise the qualification criteria to be inclusive of the issue within the sought-after flood-related projects. We know enough to know that single hazard investments miss opportunities to make a difference, in this case, perhaps improving population health.
Thank you for your consideration.
Dr. Janice Barnes
Climate Adaptation Partners
May 11, 2021
Director of Policy and Planning
Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation
600 East Main Street, 24th Floor
Richmond, Virginia 23219
RE: 2021 Grant Manual for the Community Flood Preparedness Fund
Dear Ms. McGee:
We appreciate the opportunity to review the 2021 Grant Manual for the Virginia Community Preparedness Fund. We recognize this is a difficult program to guide and implement, so we wanted to thank the Department of Conservation & Recreation, ultimately, the Governor’s office for creating forward thinking programs to help protect and improve Virginia’s land and waters.
As you narrow the guidelines to benefit the communities in need, we are encouraged to be part of process allowing feedback and transparency. The following are a list of comments, we believe, will positively affect the process for requesting and distributing funds, and allowing stakeholders to provide best use of funding for communities at risk:
We appreciate the opportunity to work with the Department of Conservation & Recreation and future stakeholders to ultimately benefit Virginia communities in need. We are available to discuss or talk though any of our comments to help make this grant process stronger and more transparent.
We appreciate the opportunity to review and provide comments on the Draft Grant Manual. Please see questions and comments below by section.
Part I, Section A – Overview and Authority
· How will you guarantee that 25% of the moneys will go to low-income geographic areas? If there is not enough low-income project interest, will you reduce the amount available to non-low income to meet %?
· What is the definition of “community-scale” hazard mitigation activities? Neighborhood-wide? City-wide? Please clarify.
Part I, Section C – Definitions
· Definitions include both “Community Resilience Plan” and “Resilience Plan” – please clarify the difference and which one is necessary for localities to have approval of in order to submit projects.
· Definition of low-income geographic area includes an impossibility: it states “any locality...that has a median household income that is not greater than 80 percent of the local median household income…” A locality cannot have 80% of its own local median household income; the locality would need to be compared against a larger area, e.g. the State. As written, localities overall will be unable to be defined as a low-income geographic area
Part II, Section A – Conditions and Limitations
· Will there ever be a scenario where match is not required?
· Item 2 states GI % is determined by relevant % of project implementation cost. Would things like land acquisition and design count as implementation cost? Otherwise would penalize the GI share.
· Why does low-income match only differ for studies or capacity building? Project implementation should also have a better scale.
· Minimum grant award is only for State share, correct? E.g. a non-nature based project would have to have a minimum cost of $100,000 (min project awarded is 50%, $50,000). This may be too large for some projects, e.g. capacity building. Why implement a minimum at all?
· Item 12D – will there ever be an opportunity to apply for funding for maintenance? Maintenance can be a significant burden, particularly for lower-income communities. Grant only requires verification of maintenance for five years, perhaps funding could support maintenance five years out.
Part II, Section B
#3 - Application Review and Approval
· Will projects be approved based on rank regardless of score? E.g. if all scores are very low will projects still be funded?
#4 – Project Commencement And Schedule for Completion
· Indicates projects taking longer than 36 months should be submitted in phases; is there extra points awarded for phased projects (i.e. the second phase)? Are projects penalized for being phased?
#6 – Grant Award and Administration
· Indicates copies of completed work are due 30 days after completion – are there other checkpoints required throughout project?
Part III – Section A
· Concerned about having to cover all of a locality in resilience plan. Grant is for areas that are subjected to recurrent flooding, why is the whole locality necessary? Many localities include areas outside of floodplains that would not be considered for flood resilience. Is it sufficient that this be the consideration? “The whole locality was considered, and a portion was determined to not need to be included in this plan.”
· How is best available science determined?
· Request more specific criteria in plan development. Since this will be a gatekeeper to projects, and plans take quite a bit of time to produce, localities want to get it right the first time.
· What will be the review process for plans? Are they submitted with projects, or beforehand? How will localities be notified that their plan is approved?
Part III – Section B
· Why limit applications to local governments?
· States “nothing in these guidelines prevents projects from serving a smaller geographic area within the defined locality” – is this just to indicate projects don’t need to be City-wide? Prior pages already indicates projects must be community-scale.
Part III – Section C, Scope of Work
· What is the value of the “Alternatives” requirement? Depending on details required, this is significant effort for something that will ultimately be an uninformative exercise. Likely that localities will choose alternatives that are significantly less desirable than what they are applying for.
· Item 8 requires a description of meeting the criteria. Is this required for all criteria? Recommend including space on the rubric for answers to be added where desired.
Part III – Section D, Budget
· Estimated total project cost requires estimated for work being completed by third parties; are any other cost breakdowns required? E.g. could I say “total cost $1 million; $100,000 for engineering design work” and the remaining $900,000 be unspoken for if it is all City staff work?
· Are project types scored against similar types? Or do hydrologic studies compete with construction of green infrastructure?
· Under the second bullet, “Evaluating” the needs for levees or other structures is not a construction of modification of existing infrastructure; it is a study. This should be a separate bullet.
· If “other” is an applicable project type, why provide a list to select from?
· Overall subheader for this is “Projects and Studies” which are two of the four possible grant types. I would have assumed there would be a second subheader that is called “Capacity Building and Planning” but there is not. If subheader is not relevant, recommend removing; if it is relevant, recommend separating out studies (sixth bullet) from implementation tools and projects, and including in capacity building and planning instead. Recommend the same for increasing outreach efforts (8th bullet), studies and data collection of statewide and regional significance (9th bullet), revisions to resilience plans (10th bullet) and capacity building (11th bullet).
· Why is acquisition given such a high point value? How would you expect a capacity building project to compete with an acquisition project? Even if the Capacity Building project obtained all other available points (from #8, 9, 10, and 11) and the Acquisition project obtained none, it would still not score as high as acquisition. This seems to be a problem.
o If projects of differing types are not meant to compete with one another, how do you divide funding between them?
· Do stream restoration projects also get points for green infrastructure?
· Is there project scoring outside of the attached rubric? More details on how projects are scored would be useful for localities in developing and selecting projects for submission.
We appreciate the opportunity to comment on the draft grant guidelines. We feel this program will be of tremendous benefit to coastal communities facing the effects of climate change. Below are some of the comments we have proposed:
Provide guidance for the requirements of a Locally Adopted Resilience Plan and provide the procedure for approval by DCR. Also, what is involved/required for re-approval every three years? Many localities do not have dedicated resilience plans and will need to develop a qualifying plan. It is important that we know the specific plan requirements, and the process for getting a plan approved.
Reconsider requiring projects to be complete within 3 years. Large scale projects require planning, design, permitting, land acquisition, bidding, and construction. Many high cost projects will not move forward until funding is in place, since localities don't have the funding for large scale projects.
The requirement to present alternatives is unnecessary effort. It shouldn't be a part of the scope of the grant reviewers to determine if one option is better than another.
Considering this program was just released and many aspects are still being worked out, many localities do not have a dedicated Resilience Plan. It would be unfair to exclude localities who have suitable projects, but do not have an "approved" community resilience plan for at least the first year of grant solicitations.
To Whom It May Concern,
Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments on the draft 2021 Grant Manual for the Virginia Community Flood Preparedness Fund.
This fund provides a new and exciting opportunity for Virginia to assist cities and counties in flood preparedness whether these are regularly occurring events or related to extreme weather. Regular flooding and the threats posed by our changing climate, rising sea levels and increased storm activity are a reality facing all of our coastal communities. Using these funds wisely and carefully is our collective responsibility.
I would like to begin by stating that I have reviewed the thorough and thoughtful comments provided by Wetlands Watch and I affirm our agreement with their comments. With that said, I would like to highlight several areas of most concern to Lynnhaven River NOW in Virginia Beach.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide these comments.
Karen W. Forget
May 12, 2021
Ms. Lisa McGee
Policy and Planning Director
Department of Conservation and Recreation
600 East Main Street, 24th Floor
Richmond, Virginia 23219
Re: Virginia Community Flood Preparedness Fund Draft Grant Manual
Dear Ms. McGee,
The Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC), a non-profit organization with a near fifty-year history of promoting and protecting the rural economy, natural resources, history and beauty of Virginia’s Piedmont, respectfully submits the following comments regarding the draft grant manual for the Virginia Community Flood Preparedness Fund (the Fund).
As we noted in our previous comments on the draft guidelines for the Fund, PEC is an enthusiastic supporter of this initiative. We are grateful to the Northam Administration and the General Assembly for having Virginia lead the way in becoming the first southern state to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), and for establishing this fund as a mechanism for utilizing the Commonwealth’s share of the proceeds from RGGI auctions to help combat climate change and improve climate and flood resilience across the state.
With regard to the draft grant manual developed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), PEC would align ourselves with the extensive comments offered by Wetlands Watch, and we would encourage DCR to seek to implement as much of the substance of those recommendations as possible. Our organization would again emphasize, as we did in our comments on the Fund’s draft guidelines, our desire to see the grant manual reflect the need for this fund to support planning, data collection, and projects in communities across the Commonwealth, as the impacts of climate change are not localized to coastal Virginia. Similarly, PEC would again raise the importance of a meaningful percentage of the annual grant funds awarded by the Fund to go towards applications in the categories of (1) planning, and (2) studies and data collection of statewide and regional significance. We continue to believe that such an emphasis is important in order to help ensure that localities in all regions of the state have the opportunity to develop comprehensive climate and flood resilience plans that can serve to inform future applications to the Fund for project-specific grants.
With the aforementioned points of emphasis in mind, PEC would call specific attention to the following items of interest from the draft grant manual, as identified by Wetlands Watch, that we believe should be addressed prior to the opening of the Fund’s anticipated initial grant round in June 2021.
The grant manual frequently references coastal areas and how they should address flooding through the use of these funds, but it does not put the same emphasis on the non-coastal areas of the state that also experience frequent flooding. PEC shares this concern that the lack of inclusion of these non-coastal areas in the grant manual could lead to minimal allocation of funds to these areas in subsequent grant rounds.
It would appear that the scoring criterion in the draft grant manual does not accurately reflect the separate grant categories, and as currently presented severely disadvantages applications for planning, studies, and capacity building. The grant manual should include a separate scoring criterion for each category of grant (i.e. planning and capacity building grant applications should not be competing against project grant applications).
The grant manual makes no reference to opportunities for localities to partner with non-profit organizations to strengthen their project proposals. The grant manual should highlight such opportunities, particularly with regard to acquisition projects, as non-profit organizations can provide necessary expertise and help encourage innovative approaches.
PEC concurs with the suggestion that the ConserveVirginia Floodplain and Flooding Resilience layer should be omitted or given less emphasis in the grant manual. This layer is not comprehensive or accurate enough to be included in the highest scored project activity.
We believe that the $25,000 minimum award for planning/capacity-building grants should be substantially reduced or eliminated. As Wetlands Watch notes, this level of minimum award is likely to be too high and burdensome for local governments seeking small incremental levels of support to build capacity.
PEC would echo the suggestion that DCR should adopt a phased approach to the grant manual’s ASFPM CFM requirement. We are concerned that as presently construed in the grant manual that this requirement will, in the initial years of the Fund’s operation, unfairly disadvantage those localities that have not previously had staff obtain ASFPM CFM certification.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide these comments. We continue to look forward to this fund helping to ensure that communities in the Virginia Piedmont and across the state have the data and support they need to develop resilience plans and meaningful projects to combat the impacts of climate change.
Senior Policy Manager
The Pew Charitable Trusts (Pew) appreciates the opportunity to comment on the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s (DCR) draft grant manual for implementation of the Virginia Community Flood Preparedness Fund (Fund). Pew strongly supported the Fund’s creation pursuant to the Clean Energy and Community Flood Preparedness Act and remains grateful to Gov. Ralph Northam’s leadership in championing its authorization and ongoing implementation.
In Pew’s comment letter dated January 27, 2021 responding to draft Fund guidelines, we emphasized the need for the Fund to address an array of current and future flood risks across the entire Commonwealth. We stated that it would be imperative that Fund guidelines ensure inland and riverine localities outside of Virginia’s Coastal Zone – and therefore not contemplated in the Coastal Master Plan – have equitable opportunities to access the Fund as both an essential mechanism to comprehensively address the Commonwealth’s flood risk, but also to secure long-term and widespread support for the Fund itself. Further we emphasized that DCR should address this apparent disparity either within modified guidelines or within the proposed grant manual.
The draft grant manual appears to offer conflicting information on this point, noting in one section that awards may be used to assist “inland and coastal communities across the Commonwealth,” but limiting the first round of assistance to coastal communities and including conformance with the Coastal Master Plan as a priority. Thus, Pew remains concerned regarding the likelihood that Fund awards will equitably benefit communities both within the Coastal Zone and inland, given local plan requirements and scoring criteria outlined in the draft grant manual. Pew urges DCR to clearly outline within a finalized grant manual how funds will be equitably distributed across the Commonwealth and should commit to a minimum proportion of funds awarded to communities outside of the Coastal Zone.
Pew is encouraged by DCR’s effort to prioritize the use of nature-based solutions (NbS), and we believe there may be value in utilizing some sort of sliding share or gradated cost approach. While the concept of a sliding cost-share scale is innovative, and if it proves successful, could serve as a model for other states to prioritize the role of nature in reducing flood risk, we have concerns that basing the cost share solely on the cost of the nature-based or green infrastructure components as it states in Section II, A 2, may not be appropriate, because in many instances the initial costs of nature-based solutions are demonstrably less than those of so-called gray solutions. We also recognize that in some instances, structural or “gray” solutions may be appropriate, but could be enhanced by incorporation of NbS.
Pew recommends that DCR work to establish alternative approaches regarding how the scale may be calculated. For example, DCR may consider expanded measurements and metrics apart from proportion of project cost ascribed to NbS. Metrics may include, for example, measures for valuing conservation of open space or wetlands, contributions to improved water quality, enhanced wildlife habitat, or recreational benefits. In addition, project evaluators may wish to consider the geographic area or population benefitting from nature-based project components, other co-benefits anticipated from use of NbS, or long-term cost savings associated with post-development operations and maintenance needs. Regardless, clarifications applied to NbS calculations should be intended to minimize metrics favoring hardened gray infrastructure where feasible and to assure that all project applicants consider how the use of natural systems can be incorporated into flood projects.
Further, the grant manual specifies, “Loans or grant funds awarded from the Fund may NOT be utilized as match funds. Monies used to match other federal and non-federal funding streams are NOT allowed as match for this grant program.” At a minimum, this verbiage is problematic as written, as it implies a locality utilizing its own general fund resources to meet a federal match requirement cannot then use funds from the same source to meet match requirements associated with the Fund. Assuming this is not DCR’s intended outcome, a finalized grant manual should clarify match restrictions associated with Fund awards, as well as specify eligible sources of funds applicants may use to meet Fund match requirements.
Moreover, Pew disagrees with the grant manual’s apparent prohibition against using Fund awards to meet federal match requirements. Leveraging the Fund as match for federal programs, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program or the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities program, would increase total funding invested in resilience across the Commonwealth. Additionally, predominantly low-income communities are likely to have greater difficulty meeting both federal match requirements as well as those associated with the Fund. At a minimum, low-income communities should be allowed to use Fund resources as a federal match to maximize the ability of these communities to compete for federal resources. A finalized grant manual should remove the restriction on using Fund awards to meet federal match requirements for all applicants.
Developing transparent and clearly defined scoring criteria is essential for the Fund’s long-term success. As DCR refines scoring criteria for a finalized grant manual, it should clearly state the maximum number of points that will be awarded, as well as what the minimum threshold score will be for an application to be considered eligible. Moreover, draft scoring criteria appears to be overly weighted to projects – specifically acquisitions – over plans, studies, and capacity building. A stream restoration project should not be considered comparable to a proposal to revise ordinances or develop a comprehensive community flood resilience plan. This suggests that it may be useful to develop additional scoring criteria by project type to allow for more appropriate comparative analysis of project benefits.
The draft grant manual additionally stipulates an applicant must have a “completed resilience plan” to be eligible for project funding and repeatedly refers to the plans as local or locality-specific. While Pew strongly supports the value of planning and the track within the fund to provide for “planning” grants, we would recommend some adjustments on these points within the draft manual.
First, we believe there may be a misplaced emphasis on a required local nature to these plans. As Virginia’s own experience with efforts to protect the Chesapeake Bay and this Administration’s commitment to a Commonwealth-wide coastal resilience plan illustrate, scale and context can be critically important in issues of water management. For flood protection, we see great value in plans that are developed with an appreciation of this scale and context – which in many cases go well beyond the boundaries of a single local jurisdiction. Therefore, we would hope that the manual would encourage collaboration across localities, particularly those localities that sit within a shared watershed. We fully agree that jurisdictions should consider the flood protection needs of their entire communities, but to the extent that they can do so in concert with their upstream and downstream neighbors, they may find flood protection solutions that work across jurisdictions. We recommend both allowing for and encouraging multi-jurisdiction plans.
Second, we remain concerned that the localities that do not yet have acceptable plans could be unreasonably delayed or prevented from accessing needed funds. To rectify this, Pew believes DCR should dedicate a proportion of funds in each cycle for planning awards and should be proactive in working with communities without a resilience plan to encourage those communities to develop such plans.
Finally, we would again encourage the DCR to offer more clarity regarding the plan requirements. Pew urges DCR to address these issues in a finalized grant manual and further encourages DCR to offer recommendations and best practices for communities who are in the process of or who are yet to develop a resilience plan. In doing so, DCR should require applicants to engage in community education and outreach during plan development, as specified in resilience plan criteria. Alternatively, if an approved resilience plan was completed prior to the Fund’s establishment, DCR should require applicants demonstrate meaningful community engagement during a proposed project’s design process.
The Fund’s draft grant manual stipulates all awarded activities must be completed within 36 months following the issuance of a signed agreement. While the draft grant manual does allow for extension requests, circumstances under which an extension would be granted are not stated, instead deferring to DCR’s discretion. At a minimum, this extension process is ambiguous and subjective. However, Pew also believes the 36-month completion schedule is itself onerous and should be revised. Realistically, a 36-month timeline for project scoping and conceptual design, final design and completion of construction documents, environmental clearance and permitting, contractor procurement and contracting, and construction activities is difficult to achieve even under ideal circumstances. Such a timeline is impossible to meet if a project encounters delays related to environmental or archaeological findings requiring site remediation or preservation, or an abundance of weather-induced ‘no work’ days.
Instead of a 36-month completion deadline, DCR should consider a 36-month deadline to break ground, and a 60-month deadline for closeout, with a possible 12-month extension. This longer timeframe would provide additional flexibility to account for unexpected development and construction delays.
To conclude, once finalized, the Fund’s grant manual should be reliable and consistent – a durable product with long-term applicability. This will afford applicants security as they develop long-term plans in consideration of funding cycles across an elongated time horizon. Significant revisions to the grant manual from year to year may discourage communities from the types of strategic long-term resilience planning and project development efforts the Clean Energy and Community Flood Preparedness Act and Community Flood Preparedness Fund are intended to incentivize. Therefore, Pew urges DCR to be deliberate and measured in finalizing the Fund’s grant manual.
We appreciate the opportunity to provide these comments and look forward to future stakeholder discussions as DCR finalizes the grant manual and further engages in Fund activities. We are available to answer any questions or engage in future dialogue as requested.
Officer, flood-prepared communities
The Pew Charitable Trusts
To Whom It May Concern:
Thank you for the opportunity to weigh in on the draft grant manual for this new program. We applaud the Northam Administration for entering into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and for deploying a portion of proceeds to help communities throughout the Commonwealth meet their flood preparedness needs.
We are supportive of the more expansive comments provided by Wetlands Watch and found particular resonance with comments provided by other non-profit organizations including Piedmont Environmental Council and Lynnhaven River NOW which like the Trust for Public Land, are working with local communities on nature-based solutions to address these issues. We highlight the following three recommendations:
-Allow the use of other grant sources to be used as match to greatly enhance the impact of the program, and follow other commonly accepted best practices for leveraging resources.
-We would de-emphasize the reliance on the ConserveVirginia Floodplain and Flooding Resilience data layer as it appears the accuracy is not at a sufficient level to tie it to scoring criteria.
-With an emphasis on acquisition in this grant program, we recommend the draft manual demonstrate more support for and recognition of the role land conservation organizations play in working with communities to protect open space for a variety of purposes. NGO's have expertise in land acquisition for conservation purposes and in leveraging other public and private funding sources, which could greatly increase the scale and impact of this program.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed grant manual.
Lynda Frost, Trust for Public Land
Wetlands Watch, Virginia Conservation Network, and the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club appreciate the opportunity to comment on the draft Grant Manual of the Virginia Community Flood Preparedness Fund.
Please find our comment letter at the following link: https://wetlandswatch.org/s/Joint-CFPF-Grant-Manual-Comment-Letter-Wetlands-Watch-VCN-VA-Sierra-Club-51221.pdf
William “Skip” Stiles
Executive Director, Wetlands Watch
Senior Policy & Campaigns Manager, Virginia Conservation Network
Offshore Energy Program Director, Virginia Chapter Sierra Club
To Whom It May Concern:
The Community Flood Preparedness Fund is a tremendous answer to sea level rise, and the private land trust community stands ready to help serve these needs of the Commonwealth.
This organization's territory stretches across several counties and I will bring two counties to your attention to illustrate why private land trusts should be considered as a viable partner with a locality when crafting the grant manual, and they are James City County and Mathews County.
-HVLC territory deals primarily in river watersheds, which usher in floodplain problems every year. Rivers are of great concern with respect to flood preparedness. Please include non-coastal areas as eligible to apply for funds.
-James City County has an open space program, where open space ideas continue to be infused into the Comprehensive Plan. This county that is more engaged with conservation than most and would still need to clearly understand the expectations of a completed resilience plan, as requested
-The pandemic has dampened collaborative efforts so it is imperative to allow a reasonable amount of time between grant announcements and due dates, more so now than ever before
-James City County and HVLC are proven partners in conservation, with use of the tool of a conservation easement to protect viewsheds, watersheds, history and agriculture needs in perpetuity. This proven track record will provide necessary custom solutions when acquiring land is part of the solution.
-Mathews County is the largest water county in the Commonwealth and a poor county, with no business tax base to speak of for matching funds for grant opportunities. The matching requirement needs to be either waived in certain circumstances, or as an option existing accounts could serve to represent the match needed for the project.
-Mathews County has a small percentage of its land developed at all and the residents actually live in the floodplains. There is hardly any public land in Mathews County so beach renourishment or storm water management devices would likely be on private lands. Private lands must be considered in these grant funded projects
-The low-income county of Mathews is in desperate need of "community-scale hazard mitigation activities that use nature based solution to reduce flood risk"! Please define community-scale.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
To Whom It May Concern:
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Grant Manual for the Community Flood Preparedness Fund (the Fund). The Virginia Eastern Shore Land Trust (VES Land Trust) conserves the farms, forests, wetlands, and heritage of Virginia’s Eastern Shore through donated conservation easements. With the generosity of local landowners, we protected 14,000 acres in Northampton and Accomack. Much of that land is located on the creeks and wetlands of the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean. We hope that the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) will take our comments into consideration when finalizing the Grant Manual.
The Grant Manual should encourage partnership with non-governmental organizations (NGO’s). Many localities do not have the capacity and expertise to navigate the grant process and, as such, are at a strategic disadvantage. NGO’s can support shared equity objectives by providing needed technical expertise in both grant writing and nature-based design. The grant manual should provide clear language allowing and encouraging localities to partner with the non-profit community.
The Grant Manual should highlight opportunities for localities to partner with nonprofits and other groups to help execute projects, specifically those dealing with acquisition. Localities should be encouraged to partner with land conservation organizations when applying for projects such as land acquisition, as these groups are experts in determining how conserved land should be managed and stewarded after acquisition occurs.
The Grant Manual should require or incentivize a deed restriction or conservation easement over parcels once acquisition and structural demolition occurs. The acquisition of property is the highest scoring grant activity, but few details are provided regarding the stewardship of property post-acquisition. A deed restriction or conservation easement are commonplace for the FEMA acquisition program and help ensure no future development occurs on the property.
We ask DCR allow the Fund to be used as a match. This will leverage the Fund and multiply the positive effect of grant awards.
We strongly support the Commonwealth’s dedication of a portion of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative auctions to the Fund. This is a big step toward a more resilient Virginia. Thank you for considering our comments.
Hali Plourde-Rogers, Executive Director
COMMENTER: A. M. Lindemann, Norfolk VA, Private Citizen
TO: Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation
SUBJECT: COMMENTS on DRAFT 2021 Grant Manual for the Virginia Community Flood Preparedness Fund
Greetings, and thank you for receiving my comments concerning the upcoming 2021 Community Flood Preparedness Fund and Grants program in Virginia.
I currently live in Virginia, am a Virginia native, and have lived and worked both in this great State and several of our neighboring States as well. I am a former award-winning NASA engineer turned entrepreneur who, along the way, have founded or led several innovative environmentally protective science-driven economic development programs in a variety of distressed urban and rural areas in the greater mid-Atlantic and Appalachian regions.
With respect to flooding, I know of and have experienced the ravages of flooding both at the coast and up in the mountains, so I have some insight into the disparate factors at play in different: terrains/water systems; economies; and – also of critical importance – wildlife habitats.
I am pleased for the opportunity of this important program, and the urgency with which it is being “stood up.”
My comments and wishes for the program are as follows:
0) “Resilience” and “Flood Resilience” – terms/referents used both vaguely and non-equivalently in the Draft manual – require explicit definition.
1) Flooding mitigation is not something that always happens in close or immediate proximity to the flood location. For example, mass deforestation inland (e.g., from rampant land development that currently plagues Virginia) not only catastrophically destroys wildlife habitat, it sets up ecosystems at a distance for flooding problems owing to a host of science-demonstrated reasons too numerous to detail here (e.g., from pollution, carbon, heat, erosion, far more). It is entirely within the scope of this program to consider potential projects that relate to addressing “inland” matters that not only affect their immediate localities but also others at a distance, so please and importantly do not lose sight of this reality when considering all projects submitted. In association, this potential “benefit at a distance” effect may not – or ever – be captured, or even capturable, in a proposing locality’s “flood resilience” plan, so some re-thinking is in order about the necessity of requiring the reconciliation of an applicant’s proposed effort with some resilience plan for that applicant’s locale.
2) I urge “equity” in the scope of projects considered for support. This is a term that is receiving a lot of use these days, so I want to be clear that what I mean by “equity” here relates to:
a) Assurance that diversity in human communities and economies are equitably supported;
b) Assurance that diversity in terrain and types of water system (e.g., mountain stream vs Atlantic Ocean coast) are equitably supported;
c) Assurance that diversity in at-risk wildlife habitats are equitably supported.
3) There is power in supporting projects that may not have precedent but in their success have the promise to serve as important “pilots” or models for yet more programs (supported by other means, and on larger scales) to follow. This further argues for ensuring diversity (as addressed above) of projects selected.
4) In association with assuring diversity (as addressed above), widely distribute notice of/invitation to the opportunity of this program throughout all types of communities and potentially eligible organizations/efforts being clear to invite creativity/innovation and to stress that no scale is too small if value can be credibly argued!
5) Essentially, relative to project selection criteria embraced and communicated:
a) Each applicant must demonstrate/make a credible case for the flood mitigation benefit(s) its project will confer, such as those alluded to above:
i) as well as how the ultimate results will be quantified/qualified,
ii) and by when results should be forthcoming, including an ongoing management plan if the benefits will take some years to realize;
b) Priority should be given to those projects that protect and enhance water quality;
c) No project should be funded or supported in any way that degrades water quality or wildlife habitat (e.g., no non-nature-based shoreline modifying efforts such as shoreline hardening or filling should be allowed).
6) As soon as practicably possible, publicize outcomes from projects supported both to demonstrate value of the program but also – of critical importance – to spur on the launch of yet more such important projects.
7) At the culmination of each funding year, produce and distribute lessons from both travails and successes encountered in the administration of this program to be used to help improve the program in the future, as well as inform future different programs and/or projects including non-governmental efforts.
I appreciate this opportunity to submit my comments relative to this important program. I support the effort wholeheartedly, and will happily further address any questions you may have.
A. M. Lindemann
Dear Ms. McGee:
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on DCR’s Community Flood Preparedness Fund (CFPF) Draft Grant Manual. It would be difficult to overstate the importance of this program, given the effects of climate change that Virginia is experiencing and will experience in the future, and the significant revenues that will be available as a result of the Commonwealth joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
As the largest global conservation organization, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) considers climate change and coastal resilience and adaptation to be one of the world’s most urgent challenges and immediate risks to communities, economies and to our mission. Our long-term commitment to conservation and community collaboration and partnerships at the Virginia Coast Reserve (VCR) embodies our global commitment to climate change at a local level, where impacts of sea level rise and coastal flooding are not only threatening the land and seascape but the culture and economy of the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Our efforts to advance specific nature-based solutions to address coastal flooding extend to Virginia Beach where we are partnering with others to implement adaptation strategies identified in the City’s recently completed coastal resilience report.
TNC very much wants to assist the Commonwealth build an effective CFPF program that can serve as a model for other states. With that in mind, we offer the following recommendations for revising the Grant Manual.
Clarify Community Resilience Plan Requirements and Process
While required elements for a Community Resilience Plan are listed in Part III.A, it is not clear how existing plans will be reviewed and approved by DCR, what constitutes a sufficient resilience plan, nor how to go about receiving approval from DCR. Given that a resilience plan approval process does not currently exist, we suggest approval be granted as part of the application review process. Alternatively, if approval of a plan must occur before application, the process for plan approval must be created and implemented by DCR as soon as possible. The draft manual should clarify why DCR’s approval is limited to a three-year timeframe and if approval renewals will be required for projects which could take localities more than three years to complete.
In our comments on the CFPF guidelines, we recommended that the first round of grant funding should focus on ensuring that all localities that do not currently have sufficient plans are able to develop such plans. The agency response document stated that this comment is addressed in the grant manual, but it was not initially clear to us how the comment is addressed. The draft manual does state that the Fund will provide planning grants to help any locality develop a flood resilience plan (Part III.A; second paragraph). If this is meant to convey that applications for development of flood resilience plans will be considered prior to other types of applications, that should be clearly stated.
The draft manual should specify what application materials are required from localities requesting grant funding solely for development of a Community Resilience Plan. The manual should also clarify match requirements (if any) for grants awarded solely for development of a Community Resilience Plan.
Finally, while the manual states that localities may build capacity for planning by securing services or personnel it is unclear if there are grant funding limits for such capacity building.
Rework Match Requirements
While the draft manual provides a definition for "Nature-based solution" in Part I.C, determining the percent of a project that constitutes nature-based/green infrastructure is not as straightforward as the draft grant manual suggests. We think this challenge will make it difficult for applicants to properly determine the amount of match for which they are eligible with the proposed tiered approach. We suggest consolidating the match categories from 4 to 2 categories, using a threshold of 50% nature-based/green infrastructure. The manual should also clarify that the percentage refers to the total cost of the project.
The Department should examine if the match required for low-income, high-risk areas can be reduced across all categories. In particular, DCR should consider whether planning and capacity development projects can be matched 100% by the fund, based on the understanding that low-income, high-risk localities who need help planning and building capacity will have the most limited ability to provide any match.
The Department should clarify that the manual does not restrict using the Fund as match for other programs, but rather seeks to prevent double counting of match dollars. In addition, the prohibition of using DCR for matching funds is confusing. If it is meant to require simply that Flood Fund dollars cannot be used to match Flood Fund dollars, that should be clarified. Allowing the use of the Fund for match opportunities leverages this funding source to its the maximum amount and should be encouraged.
Divide the Fund into Separate Categories
The draft manual includes one scoring sheet intended to cover all types of proposals including implementation of flood prevention and protection projects and studies of statewide and regional significance. Due to the broad scope of these categories, we believe it would be very difficult to evaluate all proposals using the scoring table and criteria as presented in the draft manual. We suggest that DCR establish separate categories so that comparable applications can be scored and ranked together using uniform criteria. We suggest the following three categories for consideration:
We appreciate that the proposed scoring criteria recognize the importance of acquiring land for inundation and retreat. Any such project should involve the use of a permanent conservation or open-space easement held by an organization with experience managing such properties.
Provide More Support for Low-Income, High-Risk Areas
While the draft manual does provide a definition for “Low-income geographic area” in Part I.C., the manual should make it easier for localities to readily determine if proposed projects fall within such areas. For example, the manual could reference existing maps or charts depicting the location of low-income areas. Criteria should be updated with each iteration of the manual.
As discussed in the section above, we recommend that DCR create a separate scoring category specifically for the 25% of the Fund that is statutorily required to fund low-income communities. This will enable localities to compete for grant funding more fairly.
We are concerned that the provisions of the grant manual providing that grant payments will be made on a reimbursement-only basis may deter resource-constrained localities from applying. In particular, the reimbursement model is likely to create problems for planning and capacity building projects, as a locality may need funds upfront to hire staff or send existing staff to trainings. DCR should specify circumstances under which grant payments can be made in advance of expenditures. For such grants, disbursements could be paid up-front if required interim reports show that milestones are being met.
The Nature Conservancy applauds the Commonwealth’s goal to increase the use of nature-based and green infrastructure. We agree that in many situations, the best available science will support the use of these solutions. The draft manual places a priority on green infrastructure both through the use of better matching ratios and in the scoring criteria. However, we also recognize that there are situations where the best available science will point towards using grey infrastructure to reduce the impacts of flooding. For clarity, we suggest the grant manual explicitly state a preference for green infrastructure projects, and fund grey-only infrastructure projects where the best available science has demonstrated that grey infrastructure is the right method to reduce flooding impacts.
We also recommend that DCR reconsider requiring applicants to provide an alternatives analysis in every grant application. While an applicant should outline what taking no action would mean, requiring applicants to analyze an additional alternative to their proposed activity it is unnecessarily burdensome, especially for localities that lack staff and resource capacity.
Additionally, the manual states that subsequent project applications cannot include any portion of a previously funded project. There could be confusion around this statement. For example, if a locality writes a resilience plan and outlines projects, that should not exclude that locality from applying for funds to implement those projects.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Community Flood Preparedness Fund Draft Grant Manual.
Virginia Associate State Director
Thank you for providing an opportunity to comment on the draft 2021 Grant Manual for the Virginia Community Flood Preparedness Fund.
The Indian River community in Chesapeake, Virginia is on Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth River. The entire northern part of our community is in low lying areas at risk of flooding during storm surges, which will get worse as sea levels rise. Even at higher elevations, which reach a high of about 15' about sea level, we are at increasing risk of flooding due to more severe heavy precipitation event, increasing land development, and overwhelmed stormwater management systems. Our community also has a broad demographic range, from expensive water front properties to low income communities.
Flood mitigation is an important concern in our community that will grow over the coming years. We are pleased to see the coming of this grant program. But we believe that it is very important that the funding even more strongly emphasizes nature-based solutions. Gray infrastructure solutions like rip/rap, bulkheads, infill, channelized streams, and concrete storm sewers ultimately exacerbate problems by constricting waterways, destroying habitat, and increasing water pollution.
Under Commonwealth Resilience Planning Principles, #5, "Recognize the importance of protecting and enhancing green infrastructure", please include protection of water quality from pollutants such as sediment, nutrients, bacterial contaminants, and plastic litter.
Under Grant Matching Requirements, we would support lower matching grant levels for projects that include less than 59% nature-based/green infrastructure. For example limit the match to 50% funding for projects with 40%-59% nature-based/green infrastructure and limit the match to 25% for projects with less the 39% nature-based/green infrastructure. Perhaps keep the existing match limits, i.e. 55% and 50% for those respective green infrastructure thresholds, for low income communities.
The minimum grant award amounts of $50,000 for Projects and $25,000 for Studies, Plans, and Capacity Building, seems high, considering the variable match limits. There are small projects that may be worth doing. Please consider lower these minimums.
Maintenance Plans should look out at least 10 years rather than just 5 years. These projects need to be look at longer term solutions.
President, Friends of Indian River
May 12, 2021
Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation
600 East Main Street, 24th Floor
Richmond, Virginia 23219
RE: 2021 Grant Manual for the Virginia Community Flood Preparedness Fund
On behalf of our over 83,000 members and supporters in Virginia, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) appreciates the opportunity to comment on the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s (DCR) Draft Grant Manual for the Virginia Community Flood Preparedness Fund (Fund). EDF is a leading international, non-partisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment by effectively applying science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships.
EDF applauds the leadership of the Northam Administration and the Virginia Legislature for taking steps to address and invest in flood resilience across the Commonwealth through this statewide Fund. We appreciate the work of DCR staff on the Fund to date, including the previous comment period earlier this year and responses to those comments provided by DCR in early May.
With the first-quarter Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative auction generating nearly $20 million, EDF looks forward to seeing the Fund continue to grow. The final Grant Manual will guide applications for capacity-building, studies, and eventually projects to reduce flood risk for communities across the Commonwealth. However, we have concerns with the draft Grant Manual provided by DCR and request substantive updates prior to the initiation of the first round of grant funding in order to ensure localities’ applications are set up for success and the funding process is transparent for applicants and the communities they serve.
Our primary concerns are highlighted here and explained in further detail in our comments and recommendations below:
Clarity in Eligibility
First and foremost, the final Grant Manual must explicitly allow Fund monies to be used as local match. This is critically important to allow localities to leverage additional investments, including federal funding opportunities such as NFWF, HUD, USACE and FEMA grant opportunities, to truly get ahead of flood risk. Based on DCR’s responses to public comments on the Draft Fund Policy, we believe this issue has been clarified and Fund monies will be permitted to be used as local match. Thank you for providing this important clarification that will build capacity and provide an important multiplier to the Fund. We recommend that the three year timeframe for projects be increased to five years to accommodate for lengthier federal funding cycles, although timelines for capacity-building activities and studies could remain the same or be shortened.
The draft Grant Manual is not clear in regards to if federally- or state-recognized tribes are considered eligible entities. We appreciate the clarification provided by DCR that PDCs are eligible entities and recommend tribes also be considered eligible for funding in the final Grant Manual. We also note that the Budget and SOW information should be included under Part II (Eligibility and Application Procedures) of the Grant Manual, rather than under Part III (Eligible Activities).
Clarity in Definitions
In general, the draft Grant Manual lacks consistency in terminology used throughout the document. In many instances, terms used are not the same as those defined in the beginning of the manual, such as the use of “low-income localities” instead of the defined term “low-income geographic area[s].” Another common example is the use of “locality” instead of the defined term “local governments” and the alternating use of “community resilience plan” and “resilience plan.” Although “nature-based solution” is defined, the term “green infrastructure” is also used frequently; federal programs and legislation typically refers to natural- and nature-based features and we recommend removing all references to “green infrastructure” in the final Grant Manual for clarity and consistency. We also note that some terms are used without any definition, such as “environmental justice community.” The most glaring example of this is the lack of a definition of “community-scale,” a statutorily-established priority for funding. The final Grant Manual must resolve these inconsistencies to allow for consistent and transparent evaluation of submissions.
The statutory language that establishes the Fund refers to a “locality-certified floodplain manager,” which the draft Grant Manual defines as “a Certified Floodplain Manager [CFM] according to the Association of State Floodplain Managers...who is in the employ of a local government.” These terms are not interchangeable. If DCR will require localities to have a CFM to certify areas of recurrent flooding within their locality, DCR must provide more resources to localities to support the utilization of private sector or pooled resource CFMs and/or support training of internal staff. While the fees associated with CFM certification could reasonably be included as capacity-building under this Fund, the minimum application cost for capacity-building in the draft Grant Manual is $25,000, which far exceeds certification costs even if multiple localities applied together for multiple staff certifications. Additional clarity must be provided by DCR and alternative guidance provided if CFM certification is required moving forward. If CFM certification is required in the final Grant Manual, we urge DCR to adopt a phased approach given the present limited training capacity in Virginia due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Commitment to Equity for Low-income Geographic Areas
The Grant Manual must clarify how low-income geographic areas will be determined and do so in such a way that eliminates the possibility of a locality “gerry-mandering” these areas for their advantage. With additional clarification in defining these targeted communities, DCR should consider providing or referencing specific tools necessary to identify such communities. DCR must ensure that low-income geographic areas are full participants and beneficiaries of the Fund and not just included to access the set-aside or raise the application score. The Grant Manual, staff, and reviewers must clarify metrics to ensure that funds used for the 25% set-aside realize significant impacts to these communities as a primary intent.
Low-income geographic areas have historically been left behind in resilience efforts and often suffer from compounding risks. To make the most effective use of the 25% set-aside, DCR should consider removing match requirements, significantly lowering match requirements to 5% in the capacity-building and studies categories and a maximum of 5-10% in the project category, as match requirements will further limit such communities’ ability to access these funds. Additionally, in-kind contributions should be acceptable forms of match for all applicants, but especially for low-income geographic areas who face already limited resources and capacity.
Specificity for Capacity Building and Studies
The Grant Manual must further clarify and define the various projects, plans, and studies that are eligible for the Fund. The draft Grant Manual defines “projects” as “all phases of proposed uses of the fund including plan development, permitting, research, and data gathering as well as implementation and installation.” This use of this singular term throughout the manual to encompass all proposed applications for the Fund is confusing and should be broken apart into separate terms with their own respective definitions. These additional definitions are especially needed as the draft Grant Manual refers to funding categories throughout, but does not define these categories. This is likely due to the similarities between the draft Grant Manual and the Grant Manual for the Virginia Dam Safety Program and must be addressed in the final Grant Manual.
Given the real capacity needs faced by many localities across the Commonwealth, capacity-building applications should not require the inclusion of supporting documents in the Scope of Work Narrative. If the purpose of an application is to build capacity in a community, the applicants may not have access to the supporting documentation required, such as historic flood damage data and/or images.
Transparent and Robust Scoring Processes
Along with distinct definitions for “capacity-building” and “studies” as eligible activities, we strongly recommend DCR create separate scoring criteria for these categories, distinct from the project scoring criteria, to provide necessary clarity for applicants. The Scoring Criterion in the draft Grant Manual seems to only apply for project grant categories, but it includes 5 points for “Capacity Building” and 10 points for “[r]evisions to existing resilience plans and modifications to existing comprehensive and hazard mitigation plans.” Scoring criteria should reflect the priorities of the Fund, and these allocations seem inconsistent with the Fund’s programmatic and legislative intent. A separate scoring criteria for capacity-building and studies would allow reviewers to compare similar applications to one another (“apples to apples” rather than “apples or oranges”).
Although nature-based solutions are included in the Scoring Criterion, there are no metrics provided for “community-scale,” in addition to lacking a specific definition of this term in the draft Grant Manual. As this is a statutory requirement of the Fund, the final Grant Manual should explicitly detail how to both define and score this element of applications. Providing examples of community-scale hazard mitigation activities would be a welcome addition to the final Grant Manual to give localities a better idea of what these projects could look like. Resilience plan criteria applicability should also be clarified.
We recommend review and further alignment of scoring criteria referring to NFIP and the Chesapeake Bay TMDL with regards to the Fund’s priorities. NFIP participation, while important, is not required by the grant manual and those efforts can be supported with alternative funds. Although supporting water quality and resilience co-benefits will ensure efficient use of resources, scoring criteria related to Chesapeake Bay TMDLs will bias certain geographic areas. A scoring criterion referencing documented water quality/watershed management co-benefits would be a better fit, if it is determined to align with the stated purposes of the Fund.
Demand for Fund resources is likely to significantly exceed resources for well-qualified projects. As such, additional clarity is needed on how DCR will compare and prioritize projects that have the same score and similar cost, based on the scoring rubric. “Cost effectiveness” is a statutory mandate that has no framework or methodology incorporated into the draft Grant Manual’s scoring criteria. EDF does not recommend a cost-benefit analysis requirement due to the additional burden and methodological limitations that consistently undervalue nature-based solutions as well as ecosystem benefits and impacts due to projects. However, additional assessment of 1) the number of people or communities benefited or 2) another form of quantifiable risk reduction should be incorporated into the project scoring rubric in order to provide additional context to the application. DCR should be clear and transparent regarding the review process and provide unsuccessful applicants with details about why projects do not receive funding, so they have the opportunity to improve future applications.
Finally, the Scoring Criterion in the Grant Manual should accurately prioritize low-income geographic areas. In the scoring criteria, the low income geographic area score is 10 points, while the 25% threshold statutory requirement for the Fund is not a priority threshold, it is a set-aside. The use of the ADAPT VA Social Vulnerability Index as a scoring criterion is confusing, as there is no explanation of the relationship of a score on that Index and the Fund’s definition of a “low-income geographic area.”
Considerations for Nature-based Solutions
The draft Grant Manual outlines project matches required based on the inclusion of nature-based practices as calculated by “the relevant percent of project implementation cost.” Prioritizing project matches in this way is problematic because a small percentage of the area proposed in a project could be utilizing nature-based solutions, but take up a large portion of the proposed project cost due to high expenses of contractor fees, natural plants, etc. In the alternative, a nature based practice could provide 70% of the protection but be a small percentage of the cost, compared to an impoundment or hardened structure. Instead, matches could be structured based on the percentage of area that will include nature-based solutions, rather than the relevant percent of project implementation cost.
Recognizing there are constraints with this first iteration of the Fund’s Grant Manual, future iterations of the Grant Manual should modify grant matches to promote the most successful flood resilience methods and capture the complexity of the solutions needed to be successful. In order to do this successfully, a stakeholder advisory group should be created to identify these methods after the impacts of the first grant rounds and their successful and unsuccessful implementations are examined.
Reducing Locality Burdens
Localities need lead time to develop applications and, where necessary, obtain required approvals from elected leadership. With future iterations of the Grant Manual, DCR should establish a routine cycle with advanced notice and regular opportunities for a stakeholder advisory committee and applicants to provide input and refine the administration of the Fund.
The final Grant Manual and future iterations should clearly detail the number and duration of grant periods per year, indicate how much funding is available (or projected), and allow sufficient time between requests for proposals (RFPs) and proposal deadlines. This information is crucial to assure localities can best prepare to apply for these funds. Under-resourced localities have complained about the short time between RFP announcements and deadlines on grants, especially those that require additional locality oversight or approval, as these certainly will. The administrative burden of preparing grant proposals is significant for localities and they should have some estimate of funds available in advance to guide their determination on whether to apply, as is provided by the Virginia Dam Safety Program. Localities should be encouraged to partner with other organizations to help increase their capacity.
Additionally, the Grant Manual should not contain a requirement that applicants have to provide two alternatives to their proposed activity within their application to the Fund that consider costs and benefits. Although we agree that an applicant should outline what taking no action would mean in their proposed project scenario, it is unnecessarily burdensome to require localities to provide an additional alternative to their proposed activity, particularly without specific guidance on how to assess costs and benefits, and even more so for low-income geographic areas and localities lacking staff and resource capacity.
The final Grant Manual must clarify local resilience plan requirements for the upcoming grant round, detail how and at what time those requirements may change for future grant rounds, and provide examples of acceptable local resilience plans. Integrated planning should be utilized as much as possible so that communities are not required to create an additional plan, as many localities already have plans in place (such as comprehensive plans, hazard mitigation plans, floodplain management plans, capital improvement plans, etc.). Resilience plan requirements should not include a heavy emphasis on specific project identification if achievable goals, mitigation strategies, and potential project types are identified. DCR should establish a clear and transparent process for how resilience pans will be evaluated, with a process occurring early enough in the application process to allow sufficient time for review and localities to respond to questions and provide additional information as needed. This section of the draft Grant Manual also includes unnecessary language from the Dam Safety Grant Manual related to dam safety requirements, which should be removed.
In an effort to continually improve the administrative process for both DCR and funded localities and avoid missed milestones, DCR should provide for interim progress reports, especially those of a longer duration. Additionally, adequate operation and maintenance plans are essential for successful proposed projects, particularly for the early life of nature-based projects, and help ensure locality buy-in to a project. The final grant manual should provide a model O&M plan that requires cost estimates for the mandatory five-years after project completion as an example to applicants.
Thank you for the work you have done to develop a Fund Grant Manual and award program that has the potential to fund transformational flood resilience across Virginia at a scale unlike any other in the Commonwealth. We look forward to supporting DCR and localities as the Fund Grant Manual is finalized and rolled out for applicants this year.
Virginia Director, Coastal Resilience
Environmental Defense Fund
The Virginia Floodplain Management Association (VFMA) appreciates the opportunity to comment on the draft 2021 Grant Manual for the Virginia Community Flood Preparedness Fund.
Please find our comment letter at the following link: https://vaflood.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/VFMA_CFPF-Grant-Manual-Comments_05.12.2021_final.pdf
Kristin Owen, AICP, CFM
Dear Ms. McGee:
Established in 2020 by the General Assembly, the Virginia Community Flood Preparedness Fund (CFPF), as described in §10.1-603.25 of the Code of Virginia, is intended “solely for the purposes of enhancing flood prevention or protection and coastal resilience.” The Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) is charged with administering this fund. DCR is charged, along with the Secretary of Natural Resources and the Special Assistant to the Governor for Coastal Adaptation and Protection, with establishing “guidelines regarding the distribution and prioritization of loans and grants, including loans and grants that support flood prevention or protection studies of statewide or regional significance.” In addition, the legislation directs localities to “use moneys from the Fund primarily for the purpose of implementing flood prevention and protection projects and studies in areas that are subject to recurrent flooding as confirmed by a locality-certified floodplain manager.” DCR published a draft grant manual on April 12, 2021, for public comment.
The Hampton Roads Planning District Commission (HRPDC) appreciates the opportunity to provide comments on the Draft 2021 Grant Manual for the Virginia Community Flood Preparedness Fund. The staff of the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission has reviewed the draft manual and consulted with Hampton Roads local governments. Based on this review, the HRPDC staff requests DCR’s consideration of the following comments and recommendations.
The scoring criteria included in the draft grant manual do not consistently reflect the objectives in the narrative and application requirements. There are no criteria that specifically address how much benefit a project could provide in terms of either “enhancing flood prevention or protection and coastal resilience,” which is the primary purpose of the fund. Similarly, there are no criteria for community scale or for cost effectiveness, even though both are points of emphasis in both the program guidance document and the draft grant manual. Without additional criteria that provide points for effectiveness, the prioritization will be based on types of projects and not how well they address all of the Fund’s goals.
The application process requires the total cost of the project, but the scoring does not include a cost benefit analysis. The draft criteria award significant points to acquisition (50 points) and green infrastructure (45 points) projects. By comparison, traditional, structural flood protection projects, which are most effective in meeting the primary goals of the Fund, would only receive 30 points regardless of the protection, risk reduction, or other benefits provided. The Fund is required to allocate “no less that 25 percent of the moneys disbursed from the Fund each year for projects in low-income geographic areas”. That requirement and the Planning Principle to “Identify and address socioeconomic inequities and work to enhance equity through adaptation and protection efforts” seems to be addressed in the scoring by offering 10 points if a project is in a low-income geographic area and up to 15 points for a very high social vulnerability index score.
DCR should develop a metric or set of metrics to quantify project benefits and costs for flood prevention and protection and coastal resilience. This would allow for a more transparent way to assess proposals relative to each other. The scoring criteria should emphasize the risk reduction that projects will provide by including a scoring mechanism for project benefits, and this component should be weighted more than criteria awarding points for the type of project. The points for project type such as acquisition or green infrastructure could remain as bonus points on top of cost benefit metrics.
The criterion awarding points for stream restoration or stabilization projects should also apply to shoreline and floodplain restoration and stabilization projects. For Hampton Roads localities, shoreline restoration often provides the same important benefits as stream restoration. The scoring criteria should also include a way to account for the degree of “community scale” for a proposed project and award points accordingly.
DCR should coordinate with stakeholders to identify the best ways to support projects in low-income communities as part of the development of the 2022 grant manual. This should include an assessment of the overall need for support in low-income areas and whether the proposed scoring criteria and program structure were adequate to addressing those needs. For example, the prioritization process should help communities develop the staff capacity or planning studies that support long-term project development and implementation.
The draft manual establishes application and eligibility requirements for two categories of projects: 1) capacity building and planning projects and 2) flood prevention and protection projects and studies. However, the studies and other non-construction projects that are grouped into the flood prevention and protection category have more in common with capacity building and planning projects than they do with projects that will involve land acquisition, disturbance, and construction. Combining studies with the capacity building and planning projects would allow for establishment of specific criteria and requirements for each category.
The draft manual also specifically disallows the use of CFPF grants to meet non-federal match requirements for federal grants, such as those from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Given the importance of these funding sources to addressing the high costs of adaptation, not allowing CFPF funds to be used as match appears to be self-defeating. The goals of reducing flood risk, increasing flood prevention and protection, and improving coastal resilience would all be better served by allowing CFPF funds to be used to match federal grants.
DCR should combine flood protection and prevention studies and similar projects with the capacity building and planning category, with the second category consisting of construction and other implementation projects. The grant manual should include specific evaluation and scoring criteria for each category of projects instead of a single system. The ban on the use of CFPF funds as match for other grants should be removed.
The draft manual describes several requirements for local resilience plans and requires the development and adoption of a qualifying resilience plan before a local government is eligible to apply for other project funding. This is problematic for several reasons. First, the grant manual does not include a clear description of how a locality can determine whether a plan meets the required standards or for how a locality’s plan would be considered by DCR. Resilience planning is a substantial undertaking, so more certainty in terms of what is required would be preferable. Second, although the definition of “community resilience plan” references other local plans (such as comprehensive plans, hazard mitigation plans, capital improvement programs, etc.), it is not clear from the draft grant manual whether or how these plans would meet the requirement. Without clear guidance and technical assistance from DCR and other state agencies, localities will not be in a good position to develop qualifying plans of any sort. Third, most localities already must adopt a hazard mitigation plan to be eligible for federal disaster relief. These plans, which include recommended actions and projects, involve a significant amount of work, public engagement, and coordination with state and federal agencies. Requiring a new plan that replicates much of this content would be a duplication of effort and would delay local governments’ eligibility for project funding.
DCR should remove the requirement for a separate resilience plan in this version of the grant manual. Instead, localities should be allowed to reference officially adopted plans, such as capital improvement programs, hazard mitigation plans, floodplain management plans, and comprehensive plans, that recommend projects that address flood protection and prevention. Requiring a dedicated resilience plan should be reconsidered for future grant manuals. As part of this process, DCR should develop an optional template or model local resilience plan for localities to use when developing their own plans.
DCR should also establish a clear process for how plans will be evaluated. This should occur before the grant development window or early enough in the process (at least two months prior to the deadline) to allow sufficient time for department review and for localities to respond to answer questions, provide additional information, or appeal a negative decision. This would allow localities to more effectively prioritize their efforts when developing grant proposals.
Section 10.1-603.25 legislation prioritizes projects and studies for areas that experience recurrent flooding as determined by a “locality-certified floodplain manager;” however, the draft grant manual alters the term so that it is defined as a Certified Floodplain Manager (as determined by the Association of State Floodplain Managers) employed by a locality. This is problematic for several reasons. First, the draft manual’s definition is inconsistent with state code. “Locality-certified” should be understood to mean that the locality is certifying or designating the floodplain manager. The enabling legislation emphasizes the role of locality staff with knowledge of local flood vulnerabilities and patterns. Second, many localities do not have CFMs on staff. According to the Virginia Association of Floodplain Managers, only 67 of Virginia’s 323 cities, counties, and towns have a CFM on staff. Employing a CFM is a significant expense for localities, both in terms of salary and benefits, but also in terms of training, certification, and continuing education. In addition, DCR has offered limited and irregular training opportunities, including 0273 Managing Floodplain Development through the National Flood Insurance Program, for interested local staff to learn about floodplain management or to prepare for the CFM exam. Requiring or encouraging localities to have CFMs on staff should be accompanied by a dedicated statewide training program. Third, even when localities have CFMs on staff, there is no guarantee that they are involved with working on actual flooding issues. Many are responsible for managing local Community Rating System programs or administering local floodplain management programs. If a locality-certified floodplain manager is supposed to certify that a proposed project is in an area that experiences recurrent flooding, then a local engineer or public works official involved in floodplain management should suffice.
The draft manual also appears to envision that a locality-certified floodplain manager will make a determination for each project when an application is being developed. However, many communities invest in significant efforts to comprehensively analyze their flood risks, including efforts to delineate floodplains. These efforts typically include the participation of local engineers and floodplain managers. The grant manual should recognize these efforts in the determination process.
The grant manual should utilize the term from the enabling legislation of a “locality-certified floodplain manager,” understood as a floodplain manager certified or designated by a locality, such as the chief administrative officer, administrator of the locality floodplain management program, or other employee so designated by the locality. In addition, DCR should establish a robust training and education program to improve the qualifications and capacity for local government staff involved in floodplain management. The grant manual should also include a process for allowing projects in flood-prone areas that have been identified through local or regional technical analyses and modeling.
The draft grant manual does not include definitions for “community scale” or “environmental justice community.” These terms should be explicitly defined in the definitions section. In addition, there are two terms for (proposed) required resilience plan: “community resilience plan” and “resilience plan.” These definitions should be consolidated into a single term, which should be used consistently throughout the manual.
The draft grant manual requires applicants to provide two alternatives that were considered in addition to the requested project. This would add significantly to the cost and time required to develop applications and would provide little if any benefit. This requirement should be eliminated.
The draft grant manual does not include estimates of funding by project type or funding allocated for low-income areas. Providing estimates of available funds would provide local governments with important information when they are considering whether to apply for funding in each grant round. DCR should include funding estimates in each grant manual.
Part III.A. of the draft grant manual states that local resilience plans should include the “Virginia Flood Risk Management Standard as adopted pursuant to Executive Order 24.” Executive Order 45, which describes the standard, explicitly applies to state-owned buildings and properties and to state agency actions. It is unclear how this standard would apply to local government decisions. DCR should coordinate with local governments through a stakeholder advisory process to determine how to align state and local policies and standards.
We appreciate DCR’s efforts in developing the grant manual for the Community Flood Preparedness Fund in accordance with §10.1-603.25. The HRPDC staff appreciates your consideration of these comments and suggestions.
Whitney S. Katchmark, P.E.
Principal Water Resources Engineer
The City of Norfolk appreciates the opportunity to review and provide comments on the Draft Grant Manual for the Virginia Community Flood Preparedness Fund (CFPF, or “the Fund”).
The City of Norfolk firmly believes that the most important item that needs to be addressed in the Grant Manual is that the Fund needs to explicitly be allowed to serve as a local match for federal funding opportunities such as HUD, FEMA, USACE and NFWF grants, among others. The City of Norfolk is in agreement with many other stakeholders on the request issue, including the Hampton Roads Regional Planning District Commission, the Virginia Floodplain Manager’s Association and Wetlands Watch.
Some highly important flood protection projects will require partnership at the local, state, and federal level to be successfully funded. Page 23 notes that CFPF funds cannot be used as match for other grants. Page 10 suggests that grants can be sought for activities carried out in context with a federal agency cost-share. Eligibility for grant match should be reconsidered to allow best leveraging of all funding sources, but at a minimum the wording on page 10 should be clarified to explain under what circumstances CFPF funds can be used in federal cost-share agreements.
Stream restoration is called out as a specific project type and should be included within the category of “Construction or modification of existing infrastructure or construction of gray or green infrastructure necessary to reduce or mitigate flood risk”, so that all non-acquisition construction project types are compared equally.? Although the manual notes that the project types listed are only examples, stream restoration is also given a specific point allocation in the scoring matrix and should not be treated as a special type of project compared to all other flood reduction construction activities. Alternatively, at a minimum, shoreline restoration should be included with stream restoration as these project share similar benefits of floodplain enhancement and dissipation of floodwaters.
Scoring- No Accounting for Flood Reduction Benefits
Scoring in the grant manual do not fully align with the intent of the funding. Nowhere in the scoring is the benefit of a project to enhance flood prevention or protection and coastal resilience accounted for. Without accounting for metrics of benefited population, structures, infrastructure, economic value, etc, proposed projects cannot be compared to identify those that will provide maximum flood protection. Instead, they will be reviewed in the current scoring matrix based simply on their project type. This could lead to many less effective projects being chosen simply because they did not have to compete based on their flood protection merits.
Scoring- Green Infrastructure and Acquisition Emphasized Too Heavily
The emphasis on green infrastructure and acquisition will put grey infrastructure efforts at a major competitive disadvantage. Green infrastructure has an important role to play in precipitation flood management and coastal erosion protection, but for tidal flooding, no amount of trees and wetlands can provide adequate flood reduction in the face of sea level rise, compared to necessary walls, gates, and pumps. Acquisition of some threatened properties and conversion to conserved open spaces must be considered in many areas, but it is equally important to provide long-term protection for the majority of developed areas. Scoring should be modified to provide bonus point for green infrastructure or acquisition projects, but all construction projects should otherwise be scored against each other based on how much flood protection they can provide.
Scoring- Scoring Matrix Section 7
It appears scoring in section 7 (Eligible Projects) of the scoring matrix will be additive, allowing a project to qualify for more than one set of points. For instance, stream restoration may be awarded double points for its own category and the category of “Construction or modification of existing infrastructure or constructing of gray or green infrastructure necessary to reduce or mitigate flood risk.” Likewise, an acquisition projects could be awarded multiple sets of points for acquiring and then restoring a property. If this is accurate, these projects are being emphasized at the expense of other important flood reduction project types that are not specifically called out. Providing essentially double point value for these projects skews them too far above any other project type. This section should request a selection be made for the highest scoring appropriate category.
Other recommended changes that the City of Norfolk hopes to see included within the CFPF Grant Manual include:
The application process requires the total cost of the project, but the scoring does not include a benefit-cost analysis. The draft criteria award significant points to acquisition (50 points) and green infrastructure (45 points) projects. However, by comparison, structural flood protection projects, which are most effective in meeting the primary goals of the Fund, would only receive 30 points regardless of the protection, risk reduction, or other benefits provided.
A BCA for risk-reductions should absolutely be incorporated into the scoring criteria; should include a risk reduction component.
Not including a BCA into the scoring criteria would conflict with Planning Principle B.4 in the manual; B.4: Understand fiscal realities and focus on the most cost-effective solutions for the protection and adaptation of our communities, businesses, and critical infrastructure. The solutions will, to the extent possible, prioritize effective natural solutions.
Green infrastructure percentages should be broken down by total project cost rather than project area.
The criterion awarding points for stream restoration or stabilization projects should also apply to shoreline and floodplain restoration and stabilization projects. For Hampton Roads localities, shoreline restoration often provides the same important benefits as stream restoration.
The 3-year project completion requirement does not provide sufficient time for projects that involve construction. This requirement should be modified to at least 5 years.
A points multiplier should be incorporated for CRS communities, tiered by CRS Class in order to promote projects that are part of a community’s comprehensive effort to reduce flood risk and support sound floodplain managements practices.
Total Points should be multiplied by the CRS points multiplier as follows:
Class 9: 10%
Class 8: 15%
Class 7: 20%
Class 6: 25%
Class 5: 30%
Class 4: 40%
Class 3: 50%
Class 2: 60%
Class 1: 70%
Thank you for providing the City of Norfolk the opportunity to comment.