It wasn’t until Bob Faunce, a planner with the Lincoln County Regional Planning Commission, listened to a presentation about Maine’s coastal hazards and resilience tools that he thought about Lincoln County’s own coastal hazard risks. Bob heard Pete Slovinsky from the Maine Geological Survey and J.T. Lockman from the Southern Maine Regional Planning Commission talk about their Coastal Hazard Resiliency Tools project. They had worked with the municipalities of Saco Bay as part of the Sea Level Adaptation Working Group, mapping coastal flood hazards, identifying risks and vulnerabilities, and developing adaptation strategies.
“After the conference I started thinking about at-risk areas and these issues, and what would happen if Lincoln County had a big storm and more sea level rise. We have 450 miles of tidal shoreline. There would be major impacts,” Bob said.
He then started thinking about how Maine Geological Survey’s coastal hazard resilience tools could be applied in Lincoln County. Having worked in Lincoln County for 20 years, he knew his approach would have to be slightly different. “If Pete or I started the conversation with ‘climate change is happening and sea levels are rising,’” Bob pointed out, “the towns would have never agreed to do anything.”
Bob also knew that limited staffing and funds meant he would need to find other funding sources to support a coastal hazards study. He presented his ideas to the Lincoln County commissioners and the Lincoln County Regional Planning Commission and talked about their needs, and they authorized staff time and funding to match Maine Coastal Management Program dollars to conduct a study. By being located within Lincoln County, towns were automatically included in the study and not required to spend any money. Once products like coastal hazards maps were available, Bob was able to present the results to each town individually, allowing for in-depth discussions about potential impacts, risks, vulnerabilities, adaptation strategies, and actions.
Pete Slovinsky, with Maine Geological Survey, knew that if he was going to be able to provide technical assistance to Bob and his team, he needed to become familiar with Lincoln County. “One day, I drove up to Lincoln County and Bob drove me all over in his old Mazda Miata, looking at places that flood. I knew this was going to be a great project, and a great partnership with Bob,” said Pete.
The Lincoln County Regional Planning Commission and the Maine Geological Survey, with support from a Maine Coastal Program Coastal Communities Planning Grant, proceeded to conduct the Lincoln County Sea Level Rise Coastal Hazard Study. This study created coastal flood maps to show the potential for sea level rise impacts to help inform community conversations and adaptation strategies.
The initial study mapped the highest tide, the effective one percent still water level, and several different scenarios of sea level rise, producing conservative estimates and getting the conversation started about flood risks and sea level rise impacts. Bob then met face-to-face with all town boards and spoke with the Monhegan Island community to share the maps.
One of Bob’s first discussions was with the Town of Damariscotta board of selectmen to share the coastal flood hazard maps (boards of selectmen are the governing authority for all Lincoln County communities). Needing an easy way for people to use the maps, the Lincoln County Regional Planning Commission and the Maine Geological Survey put the data into Google Earth; the Damariscotta board members were shocked when they saw how vulnerable their downtown was and asked how they could reduce impacts. Bob knew the answer: apply for a Maine Coastal Program Coastal Community Grant and have an impact analysis done.
In 2013, Damariscotta received a $20,000 Maine Coastal Program Coastal Communities Grant, with the town providing a $5,000 local cash contribution. They hired an engineering consultant for a preliminary assessment of Damariscotta’s vulnerable downtown. With help from Bob and Pete, the firm provided detailed options and costs for protecting individual buildings and all of downtown. The town then held forums and online polls to facilitate discussions about proposed adaptation strategies.
These conversations led to a plan to protect the entire downtown area. The town also revised its floodplain management ordinance to require new construction to have three feet of freeboard in tidal areas and two feet in non-tidal areas, instead of the state-minimum standard of one foot.
In 2015, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) issued new flood insurance rate maps for Lincoln County. The county and its planning commission then applied for funding to expand the work completed in 2013 and use this updated data to create new inundation data for 14 of the county’s coastal communities. Pete was the principal scientist overseeing both projects, with assistance from Bowdoin College’s Environmental Studies Program and the Lincoln County staff. The new maps demonstrated areas that could be inundated by one- and three-foot increases in sea level on top of the 100-year base flood elevations.
In analyzing the maps, Bob saw that Boothbay Harbor and Wiscasset wastewater treatment plants were vulnerable to flooding, so he met with representatives from both facilities to discuss the issues. This led to helping these facilities apply for Maine Coastal Program Coastal Communities Grants to conduct sea level rise and storm surge impact studies. The plants’ consulting engineers conducted the studies and provided cost estimates for protecting and adapting the plants, and the towns will be integrating these recommendations into their capital improvement plans. This process also created a transferable method for evaluating treatment plant infrastructure.
Bob also met with the Boothbay Harbor board of selectmen to review the potential impacts of flooding associated with a one percent storm and sea level rise, determining that many of the businesses in the heart of downtown were vulnerable to storm surge and sea level rise flooding. The selectmen authorized Bob to apply for a Maine Coastal Program Coastal Communities Grant to retain an engineering firm for analyses, costs, and recommendations for 29 businesses. The estimated project completion date is late 2017.
Finally, the maps served as the basis for an additional project. All but two of Lincoln County’s coastal towns require a minimum of one-foot freeboard above the base flood elevation. It was clear from the updated maps that flooding associated with a one percent storm with sea level rise would extend far inland of the current FEMA flood zone. Based on this, Bob created a package of amendments for each town, increasing the minimum building elevation above the base flood to three feet while addressing potential conflicts with local building height provisions. He is currently meeting with local planning boards to present the updated maps and the proposed ordinance amendments.