AUGUSTA — A bill signed by Gov. Janet Mills last month requires several state agencies to review the rules and laws they administer and report back in January on any prospective changes that might be needed to incorporate consideration of 1.5 feet of relative sea level rise by 2050 and 4 feet by 2100.
The new piece of legislation also implements a climate plan that calls for updated land-use regulations, laws and practices by 2024 in order to “enhance community resilience to flooding and other climate impacts.”
The legislation drew praise locally for getting the state agencies – which includes the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, the Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management, Maine Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the Department of Marine Resources, the Department of Transportation and the Office of the Attorney General – all looking at climate change and improving community resilience.
“This is an important first step for that,” said Allen Kratz, a member of the Brooksville Sea Level Rise and Climate Change Committee, who helped plan a Blue Hill peninsula-wide climate change conference last month.
While some people may scratch their head at involving all those departments, Kratz said that climate change cuts across all kinds of issues.
“Whatever issue motivates us, climate change is going to accelerate our need to address it. All of these are interconnected,” he said. “Because climate change is so pervasive, it goes beyond the portfolio of any one state agency.”
The Maine Climate Council had previously determined that it is likely that Maine could see waters rise between 3 and 5 feet by 2100, though higher increases are also plausible. While on its face a 1-foot increase may not seem devastating, it will lead to a 15-fold increase in the frequency of nuisance flooding and would cause a 100-year storm flood level to have a probability of occurring once every 10 years, according to the bill.
That type of increase in flooding could be devastating to the coastal communities in Hancock. The legislation estimates a 4-foot rise is projected to cause $671,000,000 in cumulative building losses and $665,000,000 in gross domestic product losses in Maine.
To Gary Friedmann, a founding member of A Climate to Thrive and a member of the Bar Harbor Town Council, those projections seemed to be on the sunnier side. He called the figures a “startling underestimation of what it’s going to cost.”
Friedmann pointed to the recent washout in Gouldsboro and on the Acadia National Park carriage trails as examples of increased flooding.
“In 90 years, there’s been some washout but nothing like what we saw in this most recent storm,” he said. Friedmann, who has called for the town to lower its carbon emissions, also wondered what mitigation measures really meant in the state’s plan, whether it be patching issues or rebuilding them to handle these rises in sea level.
But he did think it was a good start and was eager to see the recommendations that come from the departments.
Although the state is getting involved, Deer Isle town manager Jim Fisher still saw a need to work locally to address regional threats.
“We can’t expect (the state) to get to that level of detail,” he said.
Fisher, along with Kratz and others, helped organize a Blue Hill peninsula-wide climate summit and he wanted to ensure that local and regional planning for climate change and sea level continued and worked alongside the state’s efforts. It was especially important for a community like Deer Isle, which has so much at risk if water levels continue to rise.
“Deer isle is facing so many problems related to climate change and sea-level rise and we need to adapt,” Fisher said.