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Group helps coastal Waldo County communities tackle sea-level rise

By Kendra Caruso | May 04, 2021
Source: Islesboro Central School website Historical map of Islesboro.

Islesboro — Learning how to address sea-level rise can be a challenging task for coastal Maine communities, but Collaborating Toward Climate Solutions is one group trying to help some Midcoast municipalities tackle the issue.

Islesboro is one of 16 towns in western Penobscot Bay to receive CTCS's services. Other Waldo County towns in its network are Belfast and Lincolnville. It also works with communities in Passamaquoddy Bay.

Island officials felt daunted by the task of addressing sea-level rise, but networking with other towns in the region has expanded their understanding of how to address the issue, Selectman Shey Conover said.

CTCS approached the town last summer, when the program launched, to help facilitate relationship building between the island and other communities, and offered services and resources like developing a Geographic Information System and story map.

CTCS is a collaborative effort of Bowdoin College, University of Maine Machias, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, the Climate Change institute, University of Maine Cooperative Extension and Maine Sea Grant.

The GIS and story map, a visual tool to provide information to communities, are developed by University of Maine and Bowdoin students, Team Leader and University of Maine Cooperative Extension Climate Lead Professor Esperanza Stancioff said. University of Maine at Machias Professor Tora Johnson and Bowdoin Professor Eileen Johnson (the two are not related) oversee students working with CTCS.

The program has two students, one from each school, who have worked with CTCS for the past year and will continue working on projects into next school year, Stancioff said. It will also recruit new students to work with CTCS.

Islesboro officials have benefited from networking with surrounding towns, Conover said, and have gained new ideas and information. Many of the issues the town faces are shared by other municipalities.

“It was really nice to have a regional organization that was interested in bringing a group of communities together so that we could learn from each other about how we’re each trying to learn and tackle the programs and projects,” she said. “And (to see the) efforts of each community to make a plan to reduce our vulnerability to sea-level rise.”

She said the increased incidence of storms and storm surges is reason for island officials to be concerned. She hopes that if they start taking measures to address the issue now, sea-level rise will not have a profound effect on the town in the future.

There are at least two locations, The Narrows and along Ferry Road, that have been identified as vulnerable to flooding from sea-level rise, she said. The town has been trying to work on both ends of climate change by adding solar projects to decrease the town’s carbon footprint, and trying to solve issues the town will have as a result of global warming, like storm surges and flooding.

“It’s a matter of making sure that we’re doing the work now to prevent kind of catastrophic problems down the road,” she said. “It’s a long-term problem, so if we start to work on it now, hopefully we are prepared and also doing what we can to mitigate the challenge.”

Many of the solutions to sea-level rise cost more than towns can afford on their own, Stancioff said. She hopes to see more state and federal funding become available to help towns address sea-level rise. But it is still unclear what funding sources will be available to towns.

CTCS got started through a Maine Sea Grant, Stancioff said, and will continue to serve its towns. She said there might be some funding opportunities for towns through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But some communities might be able to team up to apply for grants together, which usually increases their likelihood of receiving money for projects.

“The CTCS project has provided a collaborative approach to considering and addressing coastal hazards impacts and brought together expertise and partners in the two sub-regions,” she said in an email to The Republican Journal, “and it’s been rewarding to see how these municipal officials are working to provide solutions to their communities to achieve longer-term sustainable community resilience.”

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