Portland, South Portland getting waterfront resiliency advice

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PORTLAND — They came, they’ll tour, they’ll report.

And then they will leave.

“We have the great luxury of telling you what we think and getting on a plane and getting back home,” Jim DeFrancia, the leader of a team of eight volunteers from the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Land Institute, joked on Monday after they arrived to advise city leaders in Portland and South Portland about potential future effects of rising sea levels and climate change.

On Monday, DeFrancia introduced the advisory panel at the Ocean Gateway Terminal.

At 8:30 a.m. Friday, May 16, the panel will present its suggestions at Jewett Auditorium on the campus of Southern Maine Community College. The presentation is open to the public.

Funded as part of an $800,000 grant from the Kresge Foundation, the ULI visit and ensuing report comes from members of a nonprofit institute, established in 1936, which now has 2,000 members.

The panel drawn from the academic and business world began its work Monday by touring the harbor and outlying islands, and will meet through the week with residents, business owners and city officials.

ULI panel members are volunteers who take a week away from their regular jobs to serve. Their expenses are paid by the organization, DeFrancia, a development consultant from Aspen, Colorado, said.

On Monday, DeFrancia described an open-ended process that had yet to draw any conclusions, devise any strategies or make any suggestions about real estate development, infrastructure, zoning or historic preservation.

The theme is resiliency, and South Portland Planning Director Tex Haeuser said he hopes the combined expertise will expand on work done locally while remaining practical in scope.

“Maybe the answer isn’t necessarily a big expensive property or infrastructure improvement,” Haeuser said.

Portland Mayor Michael Brennan noted the city is taking steps in consideration of rising sea levels and potential storm tides, and welcomed the chance to be more proactive.

Being proactive is something of a new step for the advisory panel, DeFrancia noted, since members have spent time recently advising on reconstruction efforts in New York after Hurricane Sandy and in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Panel work after Hurricane Sandy led to the release of a report with 23 recommendations focused on “land use and development; infrastructure, technology and capacity; finance, investment and insurance; and leadership and governance,” according to a news release.

Thomas Eitler, vice president of the institute’s advisory services program, said the panel also has a ready reserve of expertise, since ULI also has more than 30,000 associate members.

“The advisory services program is about offering creative, innovative approaches to community building,” Eitler said.

The basis for study was provided by officials in both cities in briefing guides describing area history, demographics, population trends and commercial development, DeFrancia said.

The rest will be gleaned from tours and discussions.

“We generate information and we put it out in the public sector. And we pride ourselves on our objectivity,” DeFrancia said.

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

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.