Maryland's Coast-Smart Communities Initiative

Jessica Hitt
Posted on: 12/18/2010 - Updated on: 7/22/2022

Posted by

Jessica Hitt

Project Summary

The CoastSmart Communities Initiative (CCI) provides a toolbox of resources to help Maryland counties and towns develop climate-smart policies and measures. CCI, housed under the Department of Natural Resources, developed a Community Scorecard, Coastal Communities Initiative competitive grant, and a number of case studies to act as models for other local governments. As a result of CCI efforts, the Maryland CoastSmart Council was developed, which adopted siting and design criteria to address impacts associated with sea level rise and coastal flooding.


In 2009, Maryland launched the CoastSmart Communities Initiative (CCI) to provide a support center for local governments dealing with the impacts of climate change. CCI is overseen by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and consists of a number of efforts to support the planning and implementation of adaptation policies. The initiative’s services aim to help facilitate the adaptation planning process from start to finish and assist Maryland’s coastal communities to address short and long-term coastal hazards and impacts associated with sea level rise and coastal flooding, reducing the risk to life, property, and natural resources.

The resources provided to communities through CCI include:

  • financial assistance;
  • technical assistance;
  • training opportunities for local practitioners; and
  • links to supportive information, federal and state resources, tools, visualizations, and networks

CCI offers opportunities for financial and technical assistance through the Chesapeake and Coastal Grants Gateway. This gateway allows local governments, non-governmental organizations, and academic institutions to apply for aid for projects addressing one of the following outcomes:

  1. Accelerate recovery and restoration of natural resources by implementing non-point source pollution reduction projects.
  2. Enhance capacity to understand and effectively plan to address flood risks associated with a changing climate (includes coastal hazards and stormwater and riparian hazards).
  3. Utilize natural and nature-based infrastructure to enhance resilience to climate change.
  4. Improve student ability to take action benefiting Chesapeake and coastal ecosystems through outdoor learning and stewardship.
  5. Foster sustainable development and use of Maryland’s waterways with projects that benefit the general boating public.

Funding provided to communities is a result of collaborations with the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund, Coastal Resiliency Program, Waterways Improvement Fund, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program.

The CoastSmart Resource Center provides web-based planning tools (Maryland Coastal Atlas), storm surge inundation and sea level rise maps, training programs, and information on changes to flood insurance. CCI also aids communities in evaluating risk and vulnerability to coastal hazards through the CoastSmart Scorecard. The scorecard was developed to help local governments assess how well their community is prepared for the impacts of climate change. The Scorecard acts a template for local governments to conduct an assessment of their vulnerability and also underlines the necessity for diverse and unique solutions for every community. It does not advocate for a rigid course of action but rather a flexible set of strategies to integrate sea level rise and coastal storms into their planning and management.


At the start of CCI, the focus was primarily on assisting communities in understanding vulnerabilities and developing plans to addressing them. CCI funding and assistance was first provided to projects in Somerset, Worcester, and Dorchester counties, some of Maryland’s most at-risk coastline areas. Each county developed a sea level rise guidance strategy that included recommendations to address coastal impacts. Each county had a slightly different process and came up with different solutions, but the documents produced acted as guiding documents for other local governments. Since, CCI has merged with DNR’s Chesapeake and Coastal Program (CCP) to take the “understand and plan” foundation of CCI and assist communities to develop actionable steps towards implementation.

As a result of CCI efforts, the Maryland CoastSmart Council was developed in 2014 through a legal mandate. The Council’s purpose is to adopt CoastSmart siting and design criteria to address impacts associated with sea level rise and coastal flooding. The Council oversees the CoastSmart Construction Program, which includes guidelines for planning and constructing projects that address sea level rise and coastal flooding impacts. Siting guidelines include limitations on the location of construction, such as limitations within areas likely to be inundated in the next 50 years. Design guidelines include construction requirements for infrastructure in vulnerable areas, including a minimum height of freeboard.

Some funded projects include:

  • Pocomoke River Wetland Restoration
  • Ferry Point Park: Building Resiliency through Restoration
  • Deal Island: Monitoring for Community Resilience

Outcomes and Conclusions

In the program’s 2017 annual report, which examines the strengths and weaknesses of the initiative each year, the CoastSmart Council recommended that the flood risk zones used in coastal planning be expanded to include a broader area, indicating that future sea level rise scenarios were insufficient. This would further protect Maryland’s assets and communities and distinguish Maryland as a national leader for sea level rise planning.

Without national legislation on climate change mitigation or adaptation, many states and local jurisdictions have been grappling with how to plan and prepare for the impacts of climate change. CCI is one of the most innovative government programs dealing with climate change in the country. Since its creation in 2009, the program has provided extensive support to many of Maryland’s local governments, thus increasing the state’s resiliency and preparedness. An ongoing challenge of CCI and CCP is getting plans adopted by local commissioners. While the process of assessing vulnerabilities and developing strategies usually progresses smoothly, there is often difficulty when it comes to submitting plans to council or implementing strategies. Limited funds and capacity can also pose challenges for state and local governments.

Pocomoke River Wetland Restoration
Ferry Point Park: Building Resiliency through Restoration
Deal Island: Monitoring for Community Resilience


Hitt, J., Braddock, K.N., Sheldon, J. (2021). Maryland's Coast-Smart Communities Initiative [Case study on a project of Maryland's Chesapeake & Coastal Program]. Version 2.0. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. (Last updated April 2021)

Project Contact

Sasha Land
Coastal Planner
Maryland Department of Natural Resources
[email protected]

Gwen Shaughnessy
[email protected]

Project Contacts

Position: Resilience Planner

Affiliated Organizations

The Maryland Chesapeake & Coastal Program, administered by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, is a partnership among local, regional and state agencies. The Program collaborates with many private organizations, such as local land trusts and economic development groups. Through this networked approach, no one agency or department is responsible for Maryland’s entire coast. Rather, all partners help to ensure its proper management.

Related Resources

Adaptation Phase
Sharing Lessons
Sector Addressed
Climate Justice
Conservation / Restoration
Culture / Communities
Disaster Risk Management
Education / Outreach
Land Use Planning
Rural / Indigenous Livelihoods
Transportation / Infrastructure
Water Resources
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