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Bethany Cutts

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Grants

Date: 07/01/20 - 6/30/23
Amount: $199,371.00
Funding Agencies: US Forest Service

Despite many benefits of urban greening, tree-planting programs in diverse communities nationwide often face strong local resistance, especially on private lands. This resistance impacts the success of initiatives such as Green Heart, an urban greening effort in Louisville, KY, designed to create healthier neighborhoods by encouraging tree planting to mitigate air pollution. Working with leaders of Green Heart, our project will investigate various factors (social and/or environmental) that influence the success of greening interventions and identify environmentally just practices to promote healthy urban communities across the US. Using Louisville as a case study, with lessons learned from other cities, we aim to: (1) Synthesize current state of knowledge regarding public support for urban greening across diverse communities; (2) Identify factors associated with tree-planting program success; (3) Examine public perceptions of relationships between urban trees, health, and neighborhood change; and (4) Define and share best practices to promote a national community of practice focused on equitable and inclusive urban greening. Our efforts will culminate in a “best practice” guide and toolkit, shared with a growing national community of practice promoting social equity in urban forestry. Ultimately, the project will identify strategies to promote urban greening with communities, not just within communities. 

Date: 05/01/21 - 4/30/23
Amount: $12,212.00
Funding Agencies: Alfred P. Sloan Foundation

This project will identify how energy poverty identification is affected by changing spatial scales of analysis in North Carolina. Research outcomes from this will research provide context for the identification of energy poverty in North Carolina. Specifically, they will provide context for community and government decision-makers to understand the impacts of spatial analysis. This work will be done in 2 parts. The first part be a multi-scalar spatial model that compares components of energy poverty indicators between four geographic scales to understand how these changes alter what main energy indicators present at these levels. The second part will combine actual energy use data and with indicators to characterize how the detection of energy poverty changes by the scale of analysis.

Date: 02/01/22 - 1/31/23
Amount: $59,999.00
Funding Agencies: NCSU Sea Grant Program

"Real world issue: Post-disaster, rural areas face a predictable pattern of resource flush, drawdown, and abandonment. In small towns and diverse communities, positive social, economic, and environmental impacts from these investments are often short-lived. A consequence is that scientifically-informed strategies designed to defend and harden economically valued coastal areas may have the unintended consequences of coercing buyouts, forcing relocation, and limiting environmental protections for vulnerable upstream communities, potentially to the detriment of the coastal fisheries and tourism opportunities being defended in the first place. In contrast to emergency-focused disaster work, watershed-based environmental planning is intended to be slower, strategic, and more adept at identifying and addressing chronic threats to and opportunities for environmental improvement and protection. Therefore, it stands to reason that integration between watershed governance and disaster recovery might provide a unique opportunity to create a network able to identify and focus energy on advocacy for change that connects people and sustains attention on the harms of maladaptive policies. Plan for proposed work: This study aims to identify opportunities to transform watershed governance to overcome chronic environmental justice challenges and their capacity to erode resilience following disasters. In addition to providing needed theoretical and methodological advances in social network analytics, this study could lead to better understanding of the links policy and advocacy link between “just” watershed governance and disaster resilience. The central research question is: Which properties of watershed governance enable (or constrain) environmental justice in disaster-prone coastal communities and to what extent do they resist predatory influences as the coronavirus pandemic unfolds? If, as we hypothesize, the three objectives are interrelated, then a JustWater framework will reveal connections between disaster and watershed governance policy arenas. To establish that coastal water injustice is, in fact, a problem of governance, we will investigate the well-documented watershed governance initiatives and environmental justice struggles in the Lumbee River Basin. We will pursue the following objectives: (1) Quantify impacts of disaster on formal and informal watershed governance systems using social network analytics. (2) Integrate analysis of political power and inequality with perceptions of governance outcomes by combining network analytics with interviews. (3) Analyze factors that change the values and beliefs embedded in policy proposals and governance procedures. Rationale for public support: This work will produce policy-relevant knowledge that will benefit the disaster and environmental management in the Lumbee River basin and create a transferrable protocol for evaluating potential synergies between disaster and watershed management coalitions. Results and protocols from data scraping initiatives, questionnaires, focus groups, and workshops will evaluate the process and outcomes of collaboration through a justice-centered lens. Outcomes and realistic impacts: The research results will be the just water governance aims of the Carolina coastlines. Secondary beneficiaries include the NC Disaster Management team, NC Inclusive Disaster Network, and Robeson County Cooperative for Sustainable Development and local municipalities participating in a community-university research/action partnership established in 2016. The partnership has a robust record of training students (UNC-Pembroke, NCSU) and community members in data collection, analysis, and dissemination. "

Date: 11/04/21 - 12/31/22
Amount: $9,973.00
Funding Agencies: NCSU Sea Grant Program

On September 6th, 2019 Hurricane Dorian made landfall on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, causing historic flooding and widespread damage across tourism-dependent barrier island communities. Two communities, Ocracoke and Hatteras islands, were among the hardest hit. As Hurricane Dorian recovery efforts began, the COVID-19 pandemic substantially altered recovery within the tourism sector. Fragile, outdated infrastructure and limited access policies disrupted supply chains and workforce availability, significantly lengthening recovery efforts well into the 2020 hurricane season. Once access was restored, the tourism industry in Hatteras and Ocracoke boomed with visitors seeking a “safe” escape from the pandemic, even while business owners were struggling to rebuild and housing shortages continued. The compounding crises of Hurricane Dorian and the COVID-19 pandemic have affected the decisions within the tourism industry in Hatteras and Ocracoke. Through an NSF-funded project “RAPID: Disaster recovery decision making in remote tourism dependent communities” the research team uncovered pathways of near-term decision making and integrating these decisions within a broader network of actors establishing a baseline for understanding disaster recovery in remote tourism-dependent communities. Through this research the need for a centralized location to integrate information sources and recovery resources, facilitate sharing of capacity strengths and weaknesses, and foster learning and partnerships among tourism-dependent coastal communities. This proposed project seeks to define inter-community, region-specific components (e.g., resources, information pathways, community interactions, and knowledge brokers) needed to create a virtual community-based disaster preparedness hub. The objectives of this project are designed to build upon the data from the NSF-funded project, by identifying existing community-based planning resources, hosting community focus groups to prioritize resources and actions the community members are willing to take, analyze the feedback from the focus groups, and develop a blueprint for a virtual community-based disaster preparedness hub. This process will identify the infrastructure and management foundations needed to establish and sustain the hub as well as how tourism-dependent community stakeholders would contribute to and utilize a virtual community-based disaster preparedness hub could advance knowledge and practice of resilience strategy development and planning efforts in coastal community contexts.

Date: 06/01/21 - 5/31/22
Amount: $25,000.00
Funding Agencies: NCSU Sea Grant Program

The overall objectives of this project are to characterize how youth in Craven County conceptualize coastal hazards and resilience efforts as well as to investigate how youth-led conversations might build common understanding and commitment to local coastal resilience efforts. The project will include collaboration among staff at the Boys and Girls Club of the Coastal Plains and NC Sea Grant, faculty at NC State University, and students in Craven County. The objectives for the project are: 1) Gain a better understanding about how K-12 students in Craven County conceptualize disaster resilience; 2) Compare these conceptualizations to those of Craven County adults as well as current information campaigns in the area; 3) Gain a better understanding of how youth want to be engaged in disaster resilience efforts; 4) Co-develop with students potential ways to engage communities in conversations to increase resiliency; 5) Evaluate impacts of the engagement events on conceptualizations and commitment to coastal resiliency efforts among youth, parents, and community members.

Date: 08/01/20 - 5/31/22
Amount: $10,000.00
Funding Agencies: NCSU Sea Grant Program

The rising cost of floods, in both property damage and human lives, combined with the limitations of traditional flood control infrastructure (e.g., levees, berms, and dams) has led to increased calls for nature-based flood mitigation strategies (Liao 2012, 2014; Opperman et al. 2009, 2017). While flood nature-based solutions (NBS), such as wetland conservation and restoration, offer strong social and ecological benefits, many communities continue to rely on traditional flood control infrastructure that disrupt the hydro-ecology of riverine ecosystems (Montz and Tobin 2008; Opperman et al. 2009). This gap between NBS knowledge and practice stems in part from a failure to adequately embed scientific knowledge within the cultural lifeways of impacted communities (see Gaillard and Mercer 2013). We propose a participatory framework to enhance public involvement in designing nature-based flood mitigation strategies in Robeson County, North Carolina. The coastal plains of North Carolina contain a diverse array of wetland ecosystems, including pocosins (from Algonquian meaning “swamp-on-a-hill”) and Carolina bays (Richardson and Gibbons 1993; Sharitz and Gibbons 1982). Between 1780 and 1992, North Carolina lost 53 percent of its wetlands, first primarily to agricultural drainage and more recently to urbanization (O'Driscoll 2012). In the Lumber River basin, the watershed that encompasses most of Robeson County, wetlands make up nearly 25 percent of land use, but development and agricultural ditching has degraded water quality and wildlife habitat (NCDENR 2004). Changes in state and federal policy also threaten remaining wetlands (Richardson et al. 2011; Wittenberg 2017). We hypothesize that greater public participation within NBS planning can better integrate wetland restoration and conservation within disaster recovery and mitigation processes. Our prior research in Robeson County, including 76 interviews with survivors, community leaders, and officials, reveals that residents relate to and value the local environment, particularly the Lumbee river and swamps, in diverse and complex ways. Although it was not the motivation for the initial research, these findings suggested a critical need to understand how diverse cultural identities and ways of knowing shape perceptions of NBS. Many study participants recognized the socioecological benefits that derive from the ecosystem, yet focused primarily on maintaining and improving existing flood infrastructure when discussing mitigation strategies. Local officials that we interviewed likewise made relatively few mentions of NBS projects for flood mitigation. On the contrary, some leaders have publicly expressed skepticism that large-scale wetland restoration offers a realistic long-term flooding solution (Kaplan 2018). Although most resiliency plans for the county include nature-based options (Coastal Resilience Center 2018; NC Emergency Management and NC Department of Transportation 2018; ReBuild NC 2017), overall these strategies have not been prioritized within recovery and mitigation efforts. By bringing together diverse community voices, this research will identify place-specific barriers to NBS design and implementation and facilitate conversations about how to better integrate NBS into resiliency planning.

Date: 02/15/20 - 1/31/22
Amount: $58,934.00
Funding Agencies: National Science Foundation (NSF)

In September 2019, Hurricane Dorian severely impacted remote, tourism-dependent communities in the Outer Banks region of North Carolina. The communities of Ocracoke and Hatteras sustained the most infrastructure damage (e.g., businesses, homes, schools, power, potable water, transportation, and telecommunications). As recovery efforts begin, tourism business owners have to determine whether or not to reinvest, while individuals employed within the tourism industry have to determine whether or not they will remain. These decision processes include utilizing their hurricane experience (both past and present) and a variety of information sources within their local networks to inform perceptions of access to an available workforce or workforce housing, the availability of recovery resources, and the likelihood of future visitors, as well as perceptions of recovery risks. In turn, these perceptions influence recovery intentions and actual recovery decisions. This study specifically explores this decision making process in near-term, post-disaster contexts. The project has three objectives to: (1) identify the information networks accessed by individuals’ within the tourism industry to inform recovery decisions; (2) evaluate the extent to which recovery information activated through those networks is processed; and (3) document decision making pathways that influence risk perceptions and intended recovery decisions.

Date: 02/01/18 - 12/30/20
Amount: $119,979.00
Funding Agencies: NCSU Sea Grant Program

Rivers connect the social, economic, and ecological processes of inland communities to the coast. These connections became overwhelmingly apparent in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. In October 2016, Hurricane Matthew brought extreme rainfall (up to 350 mm in 24 h) to parts of eastern North Carolina, resulting in flooding across Robeson County. Robeson County represents a region characterized by high rates of poverty and large disparities in healthcare, education, and infrastructure. We hypothesize that flood-related damages exposed Robeson residents (and downstream coastal communities) to new hazards and illuminated a need to examine hazards in light of larger relationships between resilience and vulnerability. To test this hypothesis, we propose to use an innovative methodological approach that combines interviews, participatory mapping, and public videos into a comprehensive community voice framework (CVM). Specific objectives include (a) analyzing the legitimacy of spatially explicit resilience-vulnerability models against community-generated definitions shared in interviews and (b) evaluating whether state and federal interventions following disaster present opportunities to disrupt pernicious patterns of disparity. Maps and video products created as a result of this work will inform scholarly efforts to reconcile theories of resilience and vulnerability. Results will be provided to residents and local decision-makers including Lumbee tribal leaders, recovery professionals, city planners, and community-based organizations. To extend the impact of our work beyond the life of the grant and limits of Robeson County, we will develop and pilot a protocol to empower a small museum/library/cultural center to document recovery experiences.

Date: 06/01/19 - 8/01/20
Amount: $40,000.00
Funding Agencies: Foundation for the Carolinas (FFTC)

Funds will be used to collect and process the soil samples, and pay the research team. Data collection and analysis will take place between March and December 2019. We will quantify soil quality to understand the distribution of E. coli, heavy metals, and other common contaminants in rural residential soils. The protocol will include (1) an intake questionnaire (to measure housing decisions, self-efficacy and behavioral intention), (2) field data measurements of heavy metals (arsenic, lead, mercury, and selenium, as well as aluminum, barium, boron, and chlorine), petroleum hydrocarbons, polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons characteristics, fecal coliform bacteria, (3) a results communication meeting, and a post-results debriefing (to measure changes in self-efficacy and behavioral intention). The research team and interview staff will process E. coli sample and test for the presence/absence of chicken and pig-specific genetic markers. We will send soil to a qualified lab for heavy metal testing. Data collection will follow Cutts’ previous project focused on soil contaminant concentrations (e.g. Cutts et al. 2017, London et al. 2017, Schwarz et al. 2016, Cutts et al. 2016). A data management plan including human subjects approval, data security, and public access is already in place through NC State.

Date: 03/01/19 - 7/31/20
Amount: $9,569.00
Funding Agencies: NCSU Sea Grant Program

Flooding is one of the most serious hazards coastal communities are exposed to and is expected to worsen as a result of climate change (Mousavi et al., 2011). An overview of Major Disaster Declarations in NC reveals flooding as a common thread. Existing methods for assessing flood risks tend to rely on biophysical data, such as river flow, storm tides, hydraulic analyses, and topographic surveys (FEMA, 2018b). These data are the basis of FEMAs Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs). FIRMs advise city planning, help determine insurance rates, and serve as a source of information for citizens to make informed decisions about their property. However, depending on biophysical markers and meteorological data alone for risk assessments and thus the prioritization of hazard mitigation actions, such as retrofitting homes and businesses, relocating or redeveloping areas in a community, or installing green infrastructure, is inadequate as it may poorly reflects the needs and unique vulnerabilities of local citizens. This research will engage individuals from Wilmington, NC in a four-phase citizen science project that uses local knowledge to map and contextualize community assets and flooding concerns and overlaying that data with FIRM data to provide a more holistic understanding of local flood risk. This will provide insight regarding community engagement techniques that benefit individuals themselves and the communities they live in. Phase I will engage participants in data collection using a participatory mapping approach. Independently, participants will map and label community assets and flooding concerns using physical maps and stickers. Phase II will allow interested participants to provide context to their maps through semi-structured one-on-one video recorded interviews. This information will then be integrated with FIRM data. Phase III will engage citizens in the process of analysis via a community peer review process conducted in a focus group setting. Participants will be provided with preliminary results and will be able to provide input to strengthen findings, refute findings, express how they would like the information used, or refuse to have information circulated in ways that may harm them or their community (Liboiron, Zahara, & Shoot, 2018). Input will then be addressed and interested community members will participate in the process of reporting data in Phase IV of this project. This project will yield deliverables that will benefit individuals in Wilmington, such as social flood zone maps which may be shared with local government, city planners, and other organizations in order to promote resilient disaster recovery and hazard mitigation and effective stormwater, floodplain, and watershed management. Furthermore, potential benefits of increased self-efficacy and social capital may indirectly benefit those same efforts. Lastly, throughout the process of engagement, participants will learn about flooding hazards and solutions in their communities.


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