Harpswell selectmen review data on rising sea level

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HARPSWELL — Selectmen reviewed sea level rise data with contracted Town Planner Scott Hastings on Monday evening, examining areas in town that could be critically impacted by rising seas.

Hastings, of the Midcoast Council of Governments, is serving as town planner through a contract between the town and the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry.  

On Monday, Hastings walked selectmen through a sea level rise model developed by the Maine Geological Survey, which was also presented to the town in a public workshop on Jan. 13.  The model has since been updated to show the breakdown between town, state, and private roads.

An area of particular concern is a section of Route 123 on the border with Brunswick, which would flood in a 3-feet-or-more scenario. Hastings stressed that the projection should not be considered as an absolute rise in sea level, but could occur during storm surges coinciding with high tides. The model can be viewed on MCOG’s website.

Peter Slovinsky, the state geologist who developed the sea level rise model, told the town in January that scientists predict local sea levels will rise a foot by 2050 and as much as 3 feet by 2100 as a result of warming seas and melting polar ice.

“A lot of Harpswell is in a pretty good situation,” Hastings said Monday.  “You have a very rocky and steep coastline.” 

There are a variety of reports being conducted that will help the town plan for the effects of rising seas.  

Hastings said MCOG is finalizing a draft report that will include a data review of the MGS model, potential impacts to specific infrastructure and habitat, and some planning recommendations for the town going forward.  This level of analysis is “unique to Harpswell,” Hastings said.

Students at Bowdoin College have also been using the sea level data to assist in MCOG’s planning efforts. Some students have been working on analyzing how emergency response would be hampered by severe weather events, such as a 100-year storm.

“We send all of this data to Scott (Hastings),” Eileen Johnson, a professor of Environmental Studies at Bowdoin, said in a phone interview Wednesday.  “Whenever we start a project, we ask: what is the gap in the data and what’s hard to get at, and what can we be helpful for?”

The Department of Homeland Security is also conducting an analysis on Casco Bay sea level rise, specifically analyzing its impacts on a variety of infrastructure in the region.

After the meeting, Town Administrator Kristi Eiane said town adaptation plans are still “preliminary,” but that it’s important to keep the data in mind moving forward. MCOG’s Harpswell report will be released at the end of April.

Walter Wuthmann can be reached 781-3661 ext. 100 or wwuthmann@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @wwuthmann.

Brunswick/Harpswell reporter for The Forecaster. Bowdoin College grad, San Francisco Bay Area native. Follow for municipal, school, community, and environmental news from the Midcoast.