The Takeaway: Learn how the Lincoln County Regional Planning Commission worked with the Maine Geological Survey to increase municipal resilience using regional data, tools, and expertise.
Many communities are strapped for resources, making it challenging to take the steps needed to identify coastal hazard risks and solutions. Bob Faunce, a planner with the Lincoln County Regional Planning Commission, knew he needed to carefully and strategically approach his townships. He recognized that finding a funding opportunity first, and then showing the communities hazard risk information and potential solutions, was the best way to pique their interest and get the conversation going. Bob’s partnership with Pete Slovinsky, a coastal geologist with Maine’s Geological Survey, connected him to hazard information and technical expertise, motivated the towns to assess their risks and identify solutions, and opened the doors to progress throughout the county.
- Be proactive. Because Bob recognized the importance of providing hazard risk data to Lincoln County townships, the towns are benefiting from Maine Geological Survey’s technical assistance and risk information products as they build community resilience to sea level rise and storm surge.
- Information and data change, so be prepared to explain why. Bob and Pete could not wait until they had the best, most accurate flood data, so they used what was available. However, when more accurate flood data became available, they had to answer questions about why the flooding was different in the new maps.
- Have a locally based person to keep the project going. Bob’s efforts were critical because he knew how to engage the Lincoln County communities. He also knew how to get good data and tools and what to do to keep moving forward locally.
- Help people see their personal impacts. One of the first steps involves enabling people to visualize and understand their risks and vulnerabilities. Bob did this with maps and Google Earth as a delivery mechanism.
- How you approach municipal officials really does matter. Bob knew that if he went to the towns’ boards of selectmen for money to assess their risks to sea level rise, the idea would have been dead in the water. Bob had to identify a funding source first, and then approach them with the proposal.
- Community adaptation looks different. Depending on the most critical vulnerabilities, identify recommendations that residents can get behind. For example, the Town of Damariscotta prioritized saving its visitors’ parking lot by proposing a sea wall. In this case, it was an economic decision.
- Recommend – don’t push strategies. Bob never told the towns what to do. “You just can’t push them with adaptation strategy recommendations,” he explained. “Towns have so much other work to do. We only offered recommendations and expertise to back those recommendations. They have to make the final decision.”
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.
Forming a Partnership and a Relationship
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.
Coastal Hazards Study
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.
Assessing Impacts and Identifying Solutions in Damariscotta
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.
Updating the Coastal Hazards Maps
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.
Additional Technical Assistance for Lincoln County Towns
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.
The results of each of the Maine Coastal Program-funded activities in Lincoln County have served as the building blocks for additional studies and projects. The initial Coastal Hazards Study led to the Damariscotta downtown project. Updated coastal hazard maps led to other towns conducting studies. Bob continues to share Damariscotta’s story of how they are tackling sea level rise and flooding issues with other communities in Lincoln County.
Bob and his team continue to work with Lincoln County towns through several different coastal community grants. This funding from the Maine Coastal Program has been critical in making towns more familiar with the concept of community and institutional resilience. Bob now hopes to work with these communities to begin implementing the recommendations from these efforts. Strategies include assisting Damariscotta with finding funding for a downtown seawall, helping the wastewater treatment plants integrate flood protection into their budgeting processes, working with vulnerable Boothbay Harbor waterfront building owners, and helping communities update their ordinances to recognize the threat of sea level rise to their citizens.