Thursday, July 07, 2011


Committee mulls plans to counter sea level rises
By David Carkhuff
Jul 07, 2011 12:00 am

Waves over 10 feet high battered Portland during the Patriot's Day Storm in mid-April 2007, yielding the seventh highest tide since the early 1900s.

Today, a city committee is considering the impacts if storms like the Patriot's Day Storm strike in tandem with another feared event — projected rises in sea levels attributed to the effects of climate change.

"The Patriot’s Day Storm will long be remembered for its meteorological significance and devastating power," recalls the Gulf of Maine Ocean Observing System. "Violent waves destroyed homes, businesses, coastal roads, and beaches, while forceful winds tore down power lines leaving many residents in the dark for days."

"We want to be able to start planning our investments to be able to avoid those kinds of capital costs in the future," said City Councilor Dave Marshall, chair of Portland's Energy and Environmental Sustainability Committee. The committee is mulling a planning effort that would help the city cope with rising sea levels, as part of its meeting today at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall.

"Tide gauge measurements and satellite altimetry suggest that sea level has risen worldwide approximately 4.8-8.8 inches (12-22 cm) during the last century," according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Many scientists say manmade global warming contributes to these changes in sea levels. The EPA states that "the addition of greenhouse gases and aerosols has changed the composition of the atmosphere. The changes in the atmosphere have likely influenced temperature, precipitation, storms and sea level." Not everyone agrees, and skeptics point to a lull in global warming between 1998 and 2008 as one counterargument to the theory that people are affecting the planet's climate. (And on Tuesday, Washington Post blogger Andrew Freedman even cited a new study that blames the 10-year lull in global warming on China's coal use and air pollution, arguing that coal actually screens the Earth from the sun's heat.)

As the issue of climate change is debated, Portland is looking to position itself to mitigate the impacts of storm surges and sea level rises.

"We're trying to get the city administration to start going through a planning process to plan our capital investments around the impact of sea level rise," Marshall said.

The Patriots Day storm cost a huge amount in infrastructure damage, Marshall recalled. The city had to rebuild the East End Trail, Back Cove and portions of Bayside.

"When that storm came in, Bayside was substantially flooded, Commercial Street was flooded," Marshall said. "Even without a storm when you go out to Marginal Way during the spring high tide you can have standing high water on the street."

Commercial Street and Bayside are among the "areas we claimed from the ocean a while ago," Marshall said, and as sea levels have risen, those areas could face damage. The ideal long-term vision would avoid putting money into areas that aren't adequately protected, he noted.

"It's really an immediate issue, and it's not something that we should put off," Marshall said.

The meeting agenda suggests a city council resolution asking city staff to launch the process.

"We haven't discussed hiring a consultant," Marshall added, but if staff came back and asked for help, the city council could consider it, he said.

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