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Analysis & News on the Future of Public Finance

CSG: Disaster-Filled 2018 Will Drive Resilience Development 

By Court Street Group Partner, Joseph Krist

If nothing else, the sheer number and effects of natural disasters on multiple locations across the country has increased the spotlight on the role of public infrastructure finance and development in managing the impacts of a changing environment. Given the glacial pace of infrastructure policymaking at the federal level, it is no surprise that it is primarily state and local resources which have to cope with these issues. Even with ultimate funding coming through entities such as FEMA, the unique results and timing of each disaster presents a new set of challenges.

Once the photographs no longer dominate the news, these impacts continue to drive larger and often unanticipated resource demands on state and local governments. Given the unprecedented scale of destruction associated with some of these recent events, we are sympathetic to the difficulty of accurately predicting the timing and amount of disaster-related resources. Nonetheless, as climate change-based issues continue to expand and emerge, the management of the financial implications of these increases in importance.

Yesterday's 500-year flood is happening almost annually, so now it's less easy to make the case that these events are extraordinary. At least five extreme rainfall events, defined by the 1,000-year rainfall metric, occurred east of the Rockies in the first 9 months of 2018.  These do not include localized, short-term, but intense events. That will drive change in the type, cost, funding, and finance of infrastructure as we move forward. It will drive the demand we see for different projects. There is a strong consensus around the need to address existing, as well as potential, threats from rising ocean levels (roads and rail).