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Project Summary

The Southern Maine Regional Planning Commission and Maine Geological Survey have partnered to advance adaptation options in coastal zone land use planning with respect to climate change and sea level rise. This project builds coastal resilience in Southern Maine communities by educating decision makers and coordinating regional responses to sea level rise and coastal storms and hazards.

Project Background

The Southern Maine Regional Planning Commission (SMRPC) is a council of governments that serves 39 municipalities, providing planning, economic development, and technical assistance. One of the SMRPC’s goals is to facilitate local and regional responses to issues, most recently sea level rise and coastal storms and hazards. Events such as the 2007 Patriot’s Day storm demonstrated the vulnerability of many communities throughout New England to beach erosion and flooding. The Coastal Hazard Resiliency Tools Project is a partnership between the SMRPC and the Maine Geological Survey and a means to provide local decision makers with needed information about building resilience and to encourage a long-term view to adapting to the risks of sea level rise, coastal storms, and hazards.

Project Implementation

The SMRPC is a subsidized effort by the towns; the project is funded through the Maine Coastal Program. The Coastal Hazard Resiliency Tools Project is a multi-year effort to provide local decision makers with information regarding sea level rise and coastal storms and hazards. The project started in 2008 by encouraging four communities (Scarborough, Saco, Biddeford, and Old Orchard Beach) in Maine to work on developing adaptation strategies for sea level rise. Two of these towns already have regional beach management plans – Saco Bay (2000) and Wells Bay (2002); both plans describe planning for sea level rise with different options like jetty modification, dune restoration, and beach nourishment.

The project aims to aid decision makers to improve shoreline zoning decisions in order to reflect sea level rise projections for Maine (two feet by 2100), especially with regard to the siting and construction of infrastructure. The project aims to get Maine communities to consider possible policy and regulatory responses to sea level rise and coastal storms and hazards. These solutions include: accounting for sea level rise in comprehensive plans; elevating roads; enlarging existing drainage systems; relocating infrastructure; and acquiring land. The existing minimum standard in shoreline zoning in the state is a two-foot sea level rise over the next 100 years; this project aims to encourage coastal communities to consider higher ranges of sea level rise projections. The biggest restrictions to achieving these policy revisions is that the coastal communities in question are suffering from existing economic restrictions and limited political and public will. The SMRPC and Maine Geological Survey hosted a series of public meetings in the participating coastal communities to encourage a longer-term vision to guide political and public will.

The Maine Geological Survey office has developed a variety of different data sets that can be used to characterize the coastline with respect to different hazards; these tools can be used to identify areas that need to be prioritized in terms of building coastal resilience. During the public meetings, hazard and inundation maps were presented to show the potential impacts of sea level rise on infrastructure and coastal wetland habitat. In addition, potential responses were discussed, including:

  • Considering the effects of sea level rise and coastal storms in siting and design standards
  • Discouraging investment in projects in areas vulnerable to flooding
  • Acquiring land in adjacent upland areas to allow for migrating shorelines
  • Increasing number and amount of nature preserves to act as buffer zones for wetland migration
  • Discouraging shoreline hardening techniques and encouraging “soft” stabilization

Project Outcomes and Conclusions

The Coastal Hazard Resiliency Tools Project has since added Kennebunk and York to its list of coastal communities. The Maine Coastal Program is actively seeking funds to assist these and other coastal communities plan for sea level rise and coastal hazards. In addition, a regional grant has been awarded to Scarborough, Saco, and Biddeford to establish a Sea Level Adaptation Working Group to coordinate on floodplain management and planning. Among its duties, the Working Group will identify regional infrastructure vulnerabilities, facilitate coordinated responses, and obtain funding for adaptation projects.

Recommended Citation

Gregg, R. M. (2010). Municipal Adaptations to Create Resilient Beach Communities in Southern Maine: The Coastal Hazard Resiliency Tools Project [Case study on a project of the Southern Maine Regional Planning Commission and Maine Geological Survey]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE: http://www.cakex.org/case-studies/municipal-adaptations-create-resilient... (Last updated December 2010)