Climate change mitigation ideas flow through Portland's Bayside

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PORTLAND — Resilience is in Bayside’s future, but how to deal with potential rising sea levels has not progressed much further than ground zero.

On Dec. 14, two events at Mayo Street Arts introduced the public to the new Bayside Adapts Working Group while detailing the risks and methods to mitigate what could be a sea-level rise of 1.6-6.6 feet between 2050 and 2100.

“They are rising and they are going to continue to rise for centuries,” Dr. Cameron Wake, a climate scientist at the University of New Hampshire, said at the evening forum.

Wake urged taking incremental steps based on local priorities that could be expanded upon in the future, if possible, and not waiting for government action.

The working group, led by Dr. Jack Kartez of the U.S. Environmental Agency Region 1 New England Environmental Finance Center, includes representatives from the Bayside and East Bayside neighborhood groups, Portland Society of Architecture, Portland Trails, the Portland Housing Authority and local business and property owners.

Waterfront Coordinator Bill Needelman said the city first resolved to act on climate change a decade ago, and Bayside is particularly vulnerable as it is the lowest lying area in the city.

“When you stand on Maine State Pier (off Commercial Street) you are at least 4 feet higher than you would be in many parts of Bayside,” Needelman said in a press release announcing the Dec. 14 events.

City studies in the last two decades have considered levees and flood gates at Tukey’s Bridge to help stop an inundation from Back Cove, but flooding after heavy rains in September 2015 proved a catalyst for moving forward on a study of the area roughly bounded by Back Cove and Forest, Cumberland and Washington avenues.

“(People) need to know the water bubbling up through the street at Whole Foods or U-Haul is saltwater, and it is corrosive,” said working group member Jan Piribeck, of the East Bayside Neighborhood Organization.

The city was granted $10,000 in March by the National League of Cities and Wells Fargo Foundation as part of a 10-city pilot program called Leadership in Community Resilience.

Other programs were set up in Annapolis, Maryland; San Antonio, Texas; Providence, Rhode Island; and Tucson, Arizona. The cities receive some funding, and access to professional training and technical assistance in order to set up resiliency plans.

Any planning should be unique, said Northampton, Massachusetts, Planning and Sustainability Director Wayne Feiden at the forum.

“Think about all the systems we take for granted and how to address them,” he said. “Be big picture, but take it apart and look at the nuts and bolts.”

Feiden has been part of “design and resiliency” teams that have consulted with officials and residents of Provincetown, Massachusetts, Providence and Bath on sea level rise. 

In each city, there are resiliency goals. In Provincetown, it was preserving affordable housing for longtime residents. In Providence, protecting waterfront jobs and engaging a very diverse population in community solutions was important, Feiden said.

In Bath, people wanted to “embrace the waterfront,” Feiden said, although sea level projections showed the Kennebec River could eventually inundate the present shoreline.

In Bayside, rising sea levels have already figured into planning for the Midtown mixed-use development project on former city land on Somerset Street. In its agreement with Federated Cos., the city has committed to spending $2.6 million to pay two-thirds of the cost to elevate the street above projected flood plains.

On Monday, city Public Works Director Chris Branch said sea level rise is a key consideration for all projects in the neighborhood, but the planned separation of storm and sewer mains under Marginal Way will likely not more forward until 2018 at the earliest.

The project, which Branch said was about 90 percent planned out, carried an estimated cost of $35 million, or $10 million to $15 million more than anticipated, and is less a factor in dealing with rising sea levels.

“I don’t think it would have had much impact on flooding, per se,” Branch said. “The real problem is, we have flood gates and discharges that don’t work anymore and we are looking to replace them.”

The Marginal Way combined sewer overflow project is part of a the larger effort for the city to comply with a consent agreement with the state and federal government to reduce wastewater flows into Casco Bay.

The city will repair floodgates, and another separation of mains is planned that will include the area of Marginal Way where it meets State Street and Forest Avenue, Branch said.

Solutions may be demanded by the private sector, too, said Jim Hanley of Atlantic National Trust. The company manages the buildings at Preble Street and Marginal Way intersections, and Hanley said the potential devaluation of real estate because it is flood-prone could lead to more regulation from insurance and finance industries.

The working group will meet again in January on an undetermined date to discuss hazard mitigation goals. Meetings are open to the public.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

A new city working group has begun work on combatting expected rising sea levels in Portland’s Bayside, seen Dec. 14 from Fort Sumner Park.Dr. Jack Kartez leads a working group on sea level rise in Bayside at at Dec. 14 meeting at Mayo Street Arts. The group is comprised of residents, property owners and neighborhood business leaders.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.