Background and Challenges

Ever since Hurricane Sandy came barreling up the Atlantic Coast nearly eight years ago, CBI has worked with a dedicated set of residents in Piermont, NY, as they strive to make their Hudson River-front community resilient in the face of rising seas and intensifying storms. The village has made impressive progress in addressing near-term challenges, but Piermont’s most vulnerable neighborhoods have gained little ground in having sustained conversations about longer-term approaches to flooding. In late 2018, CBI decided to step into unchartered and emotionally fraught territory: launching a year-long effort with residents from Piermont’s four most at-risk neighborhoods to address head on the challenge of long-term adaptation, including the potential for managed retreat away from the water’s edge.


CBI’s Senior Mediator Bennett Brooks knew an unprecedented and difficult conversation demanded an innovative approach. Working in close collaboration with New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation’s Hudson River Estuary Program, the nonprofit Scenic Hudson, and former state floodplain manager Bill Nechamen, and supported by a grant from the American Arbitration Association’s International Centre for Dispute Resolution, the planning team put together an 18-month effort. This effort included such actions as:

  • Recruit and train a small corps of local residents (referred to as liaisons) to help organize and manage discussions among their neighbors.
  • Translate often baffling long-term flooding forecasts into something more tangible and harder to ignore: an individualized assessment of flood risk – both for storm surge and the more periodic, intensifying high-tide flooding – for any interested resident.
  • Develop a personalized risk tolerance questionnaire to help residents take stock of their unique situation (age, financial strength, commitment to place, etc.) relative to flood risk.
  • Bring together residents from the village’s most flood-prone neighborhoods to share their individual perspectives on risk and possible adaptation options. These conversations allowed them to be honest about feelings of grief and fear with one another and begin to build a vision and action plan for their neighborhood.


The dialogue has sparked interest and action. Residents are motivated to keep the conversation going, with two of the four neighborhoods having already organized follow-up conversations on adaptation needs and strategies. The village is also actively following up on specific recommendations from the neighborhoods, including preliminarily exploration of the potential for securing land elsewhere in the village as a site for possible relocation. Longer-term impacts will need more time to emerge, but CBI is confident that the approaches piloted in Piermont have strong potential to be useful in coastal communities elsewhere as they face the difficult task of addressing climate-related risks to their homes.