Municipal Adaptations to Create Resilient Beach Communities in Southern Maine: The Coastal Hazard Resiliency Tools Project
The Southern Maine Planning and Development Commission and Maine Geological Survey partnered to advance adaptation planning in coastal communities with respect to climate change and sea level rise. The Coastal Hazard Resiliency Tools (CHRT) Project aimed to improve municipal resiliency to flooding, sea level rise, and storm surge by developing high quality, localized climate data and projections and then meeting with communities to talk through the information and identify adaptation options.
The Southern Maine Planning and Development Commission (SMPDC; formerly known as the Regional Planning Commission) is a council of governments that serves 39 municipalities, providing planning, economic development, and technical assistance. One of the SMPDC’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 (CHRT) Project was a partnership between the SMPDC and the Maine Geological Survey that aimed to improve municipal resiliency to flooding, storm surge, and sea level rise.
The CHRT Project, funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, was a multi-year effort to provide local decision makers with information regarding sea level rise and coastal storms and hazards. The project aimed to improve municipal resiliency to flooding, sea level rise, and storm surge by developing high quality, localized climate data and projections and then meeting with communities to talk through the information and identify adaptation options.
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, and expanded to include engagement with over 40 of Maine’s coastal communities. As a result of this project, many towns implemented adaptation actions including establishing floodplain and shoreline zoning ordinances, developing shore and harbor plans, and conducting vulnerability assessments. For example, York integrated adaptation to sea level rise into their comprehensive plan, and the Town of Vinalhaven received a Coastal Community Grant to assess the vulnerability of their Downstreet Business District to coastal flooding.
The biggest barriers to implementation included political and state will and funding, although numerous municipalities continued to move forward with adaptation planning regardless. Recent changes in the state government indicate a shift towards encouraging more climate-informed planning.
Outcomes and Conclusions
The CHRT Project set up a transferrable methodology for engaging at the municipal level, and has also been adapted to regional level planning. As part of the project, a step-by-step resiliency planning approach was created in order to allow municipalities to go through the process on their own if they preferred. The CHRT Project sparked many other adaptation planning efforts in the state, including the development of the Maine Flood Resilience Checklist, which significantly helped to expand municipal resiliency planning.
Lessons learned from the project comprise:
- Include a state climate expert (e.g., Maine Geological Survey) to provide technical assistance, regional planner (i.e. someone who works with the community on a regular basis), and a municipal champion (e.g., council member, town planner, conservation commission) in the project team.
- Generate state-level climate data (e.g., sea level rise mapping, marsh migration maps, coastal erosion trends) but tailor information to each community during engagements
- Refer to previous local climate hazards information to help communities identify adaptation options and create transferrable lessons.
- State level resiliency grants made implementation of the adaptation projects possible.
Gregg, R. M. (2020). 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]. Version 2.0. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. (Last updated July 2020)