May 30, 2013

Maine’s vulnerability to climate change was discussed at a forum held by the Environmental and Energy Technology Council of Maine (E2Tech), on April 25 at the Wishcamper Center in Portland.

The forum, Climate Change Adaptation: The Maine Response to Planning, Economic and Engineering Challenges, specifically addressed the need for Maine communities to adapt defensive infrastructure before the sea level rises.

Maine’s Legislature is currently considering a bill that would require the State to resume work on a statewide climate change adaption plan.

Ryan Wingard, PE, Project Manager, Wright Pierce, has estimated that adapting the culverts in Maine’s road systems may cost $350-400 million. A $50 million bond issue dealing with wastewater infrastructure (LD 825) is being considered by the Environmental and Natural Resources Committee.

“Money will need to be invested, there is no question,” said William Ferdinand, Jr., Shareholder & Chair of the Legislative & Government Relations Practice Group of Eaton Peabody.

Climate change awareness is becoming an increasingly important campaign as CO2 levels continue to rise and threaten Maine’s infrastructure, according to George Jacobson, Maine State Climatologist & Professor Emeritus, Climate Change Institute & School of Biology and Ecology, University of Maine.

Jacobson noted that over the past 50 years snow cover has decreased in the northern hemisphere. This is problematic because the snow reflects light, but if it is gone the soil actually absorbs the light and becomes warmer, which in turn melts more snow, making it self-reinforcing.

The winters of 2010 and 2012 were much warmer than normal, which may be due to the loss of arctic sea ice. According to Jacobson, the melting of the arctic sea ice has huge implications for the northern hemisphere, especially winters.

Environmental Planning, Catalysis Adaptation Partners, LLC has developed a software modeling tool called Coastal Adaptation to Sea Level Rise Tool (COAST) in order to predict which communities are most at risk.

COAST has already assessed dozen of sites around Maine by using local data paired with peoples’ anecdotal experiences. Each community has been given a vulnerability assessment that includes damage modeling.

Part of COAST’s assessment looks at damage to real estate. FEMA’s flood insurance studies are used to predict how often floods typically occur and how much real-estate damage may happen as a result.

Economic output, public health, displaced persons, natural resources, cultural resources and community impacts are also modeled by COAST.

The report ends with a comprehensive plan, for the particular area under assessment, suggesting appropriate strategies to implement in order to mitigate potential damages.

“We are offering a quick analysis; as reality becomes much worse, we will have to deliver worse news. The better our information on storm frequency and other data points becomes, we can plug this data into our models and deliver more accurate damage models,” said J.T. Lockman, AICP, Vice President of Environmental Planning, Catalysis Adaptation Partners, LLC, in regards to the FEMA data used by COAST.

According to Wingard some precautions can be taken to abate the crises of climate change in Maine. Some measures include relocation of infrastructures, developing flood proof structures, installing maneuverable tide gates, and using rain gardens to return water back to groundwater.

“The people who have experienced damages have the greatest impact on climate change deniers. I use the analogy of burglary. If our house were burglarized, we would take preventive actions, not ask for proof of why the burglar is stealing from you,” said Jacobson.

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