No Adverse Impact (NAI) is a forward-thinking, fair, and legally defensible approach to coastal land management. It was first articulated by the Association of State Floodplain Managers in a 2001 white paper. In its broadest sense, it is a set of “do no harm” principles that communities can use when planning, designing, and evaluating public and private projects. By following the NAI approach, communities can protect people, property, and municipal budgets.
NAI protects the rights of residents, businesses, and visitors in your community by requiring that public and private projects be designed and completed in such a way that they do not:
- Pose a threat to public safety,
- Increase flood or storm damage to public or private property, and/or
- Strain municipal budgets by raising community expenditures for storm-damage mitigation, stormwater management, emergency services, and disaster recovery efforts.
NAI: Local and Comprehensive
Careful management of coastal floodplains is critical to protect people and property, and to reduce the financial strain on businesses, private property owners, and municipal budgets. While the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has passed regulations to help prevent storm damage, ultimately most of the authority and tremendous responsibility to manage floodplains is entrusted to local governments.
Accurately evaluating the potential effects of proposed activities can be challenging, and requires looking both on and off site, since damage often isn’t confined to the parcel(s) under review. For example, the construction of a home may change stormwater flow and increase erosion to surrounding properties. Similarly, new parking lots, roads, and buildings may redirect stormwater onto other properties instead of allowing it to be reabsorbed into the ground.
Since each permit might be considered to set a precedent, it is critical that communities consider the potential cumulative effects of their decisions-a number of seemingly in- significant projects can collectively cause substantial damage. The NAI approach clarifies that community leaders not only have the legal right to consider the cumulative im- pacts of their permitting decisions, they have the legal responsibility.Increasingly, communities that permit projects that result in flooding or storm damage to other properties end up in land court. (See the legal section of the StormSmart Coasts site.) Adopting the NAI approach also gives your community the chance to clearly articulate a “do no harm” goal for all future land use.
The NAI Approach
The Association of State Floodplain Managers (ASFPM), a national organization of professional flood hazard specialists from all levels of government, the research community, the insurance industry, and technical fields, identifies three different levels of floodplain management strategies:
Basic, Better, and NAI.
- BASIC: Approaches typically used to meet minimum federal or state requirements for managing floodplains and coastal areas to minimize flood losses.
- BETTER: Activities that are more effective than the basic level because they: 1) are tailored to specific situations, 2) provide protection from larger floods, 3) allow for uncertainty in storm magnitude prediction, and 4) serve multiple purposes.
- NAI: Tools and techniques that go further than the measures defined as “better” by ensuring that private development, public infrastructure, and planning activities do not have direct or indirect negative consequences on the surrounding natural resource areas, private property, or other communities. Click here for a list of NAI-level activities described on this site.
A “No Development” Policy?
By adopting the NAI approach, your community is not saying “no” to new development, it is only clarifying that developers will be required to find solutions to the potential problems that their projects may cause. This clear and predictable approach lets businesses to do what they do best: find solutions.
ASFPM has created seven NAI Building Blocks, which can help communities to maintain and enhance flood protection. These building blocks (hazard identification and mapping; planning; regulations and development standards; mitigation; infrastructure siting and design; emergency services; and public outreach and education) are briefly introduced in a PDF table designed by the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management.
The Benefits of NAI
While NAI strategies require investment in planning and implementation, they offer real benefits for your community. NAI can . . .
- Save money: Less damage means lower post-storm community cleanup costs, fewer demands on public officials’ limited time, and reduced strain on public resources.
- Decrease litigation: NAI principles have been judicially tested and courts have shown immense deference to regulations that seek to prevent harm (for an example, see A Cape Cod Community Prevents New Residences in Floodplains). NAI can also help your community avoid potential litigation over ineffectual flood management practices that result in future damage or loss of life. (See the legal section of the StormSmart Coasts site.)
- Reduce conflicts with property owners: NAI doesn’t say “no.” It says “yes, if . . .” It is a common-sense approach that seeks to protect everyone’s property by only allowing projects that eliminate or mitigate their impacts.
- Reduce risk to people and public and private property: Better planned and designed development and public infrastructure is less likely to cause and suffer damage. An NAI approach can help protect the beaches that are critical to many communities’ economies.
- Lower flood insurance rates: The Community Rating System (CRS) is a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) program that decreases flood insurance rates for communities with effective hazard mitigation strategies. Many NAI strategies qualify for CRS credits. For more information see the CRS Resource Center.
- Increase your capacity to bounce back after a storm: Reduced storm damage means less downtime and less costly clean up for local businesses, which is especially important for small, locally owned businesses that may otherwise struggle to stay solvent during frequent or prolonged closures.
- Clarify your land use objectives: By adopting NAI principles, your community can articulate the overarching goals that help bring consistency and predictability to permitting.
- Preserve quality of life: With NAI you can help make your community safer while preserving quality of life for your citizens now and in the future. An NAI approach can help ensure that your community resources, including beaches, public parks, and other open spaces, are there to be enjoyed by future generations.
For More Information . . .
- For more on the theory of NAI and its application in coastal areas, see the Association of State Floodplain Managers website, especially their Coastal NAI Handbook.
- See the legal section of the StormSmart Coasts site.
- For an example of NAI-type regulations at work, see the StormSmart Coasts Fact Sheet 3, A Cape Cod Community Prevents New Residences in Floodplains.
- For a more detailed look at the legal theory behind this and similar cases involving land management in hazardous areas, see the Association of State Floodplain Managers’ No Adverse Impact Floodplain Management and the Courts by attorneys Jon Kusler and Ed Thomas.