The effects of climate change have already arrived for Arrowsic, a mid-coast island community of 477 people.
When it rains, a road from the island to the mainland can be flooded. That happened during the devastating storm that hit Maine on December 28, when flooding from surrounding wetlands turned into a river on Route 127. Lines of cars had to take turns navigate the flowing water, while homes on the island lose power for days.
Now, as global warming increases the likelihood of equally devastating storms, a group of volunteers is putting together an action plan to protect Arrowsics’ infrastructure, natural resources and people from exacerbating the effects of climate change, while also minimizing its contributions to the problem.
It’s not alone: a small but growing number of Maine communities are also working on their own local climate action plans. Most of the communities, if not all, are located along the coast, where sea levels have risen eight inches since 1950 and are expected to rise 1.5 feet by 2050. With rising sea levels comes various local threats, including salt water flooding, coastal erosion. and groundwater contamination.
In 2020, the state completed its statewide Maine Wont Wait climate action plan that includes goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and manage the many threats of global warming.
But many Maine communities have also responded in their own ways, from replacing culverts that carry water under roads to building solar farms and opening cooling centers.
The fact that more of them are now creating local action plans points to a growing recognition of the problem, at least in communities that have a front-row seat to sea level rise and the resources to fund those efforts. Other communities that have decided to develop climate action plans or have already done so include Brunswick, Bath, Portland, Falmouth, York and Kittery.
While there is a statewide climate plan, local plans can give communities a better shot at receiving grant funding for their efforts.
They can also help communities like Arrowsic address more specific needs, according to Susie Arnold, the director of the Center for Climate and Community at the Rockland-based Island Institute.
For example, Arrowsics’ problems with flooding and saltwater intrusion into groundwater wells are priorities that may be different for a Maine town that faces different types of threats such as different type of flooding from rivers.
There are tons of climate impacts facing the state, so in order for communities to be able to address their most pressing priorities, it is critical for them to have an individual plan in addition to the state climate action plan, said Arnold.
However, Maine’s state climate plan Wont Wait includes resources and guidance for communities looking to do their own planning.
One of the efforts stemming from the state plan is the Community Resilience Partnership, which provides Maine towns and cities with funding to help them prepare for the effects of climate change. Arrowsic is one of those towns, along with others on the mid-coast such as Bath and Rockland.
With the $35,000 Arrowsic received from the partnership, the city hired a consultant to help develop its own plan, said Jody Jones, the co-chair of the Arrowsics Climate Action Committee. After two years of work, the town will vote to finalize the plan this June.
The goals of the Arrowsics plan include improving roads and bridges, educating the community on sea level rise, improving energy use through solar and power line reinforcement, and other changes. Because creating the plan required talking to many stakeholders in the city, Jones said the process actually strengthened connections between residents.
“It’s such a small town that we don’t have a lot of places where we can come together and talk about our issues together,” Jones said. I think the process of gathering input and talking to each other and meeting and doing workshops has created, I think, an excitement about our community.
Rod Melanson, who oversees Bath’s sustainability efforts, said the city is using its $100,000 in Community Resilience Partnership funds to work on assessing flood risk from sea level rise. With the mid-coast’s largest owner, Bath Iron Works, located directly on the Kennebec River, flooding and higher water levels are increasingly important issues.
Unlike Arrowsic, Bath has had a climate action plan since 2007. For the next update, Melanson said Bath is trying to involve community members in preparing for climate change, updating greenhouse gas inventories and updating cities’ facilities to be more environmentally friendly.
The new update will really focus on a spectrum of not only reducing carbon, but preparing and adapting and mitigating the expected impacts, said Melanson.
Melanson said state funding is critical to helping the city meet its climate goals, mobilizing the community to actually go through with its sustainability efforts. And like Jones, Melanson said climate change preparedness is a community-driven process that requires patience.
It’s a kind of partnership between populations, and it’s a difficult one, Melanson said. Reaching and engaging them is a difficult obstacle.
Currently, the roads in Arrowsics are still flooded. Its groundwater is still threatened by salt water intrusion. But in the long run, Jones hopes the town will become a stronger community and have a positive impact on the world.
The thing that is most important to me is how hard we work to make this climate action plan reflect the values of the residents of our city, said Jones.
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