Monday, August 27, 2012

Portland Seeks Ways to Cope with Rising Sea Levels

MPBN Portland Seeks Ways to Cope with Rising Sea Levels 02/15/2012 Reported By: Tom Porter Tonight the Portland City Council will take up an issue of significant importance to many Maine coastal communities: rising sea levels associated with global warming. Portland is now the tenth Maine community to look seriously at the problem. Councilors have invited Peter Slovinsky of the Maine Geological Survey to discuss the risks posed by sea level rise and storm surge. "Many people will say, 'Well it's not really an issue for today, it's an issue for tomorrow,'" says Peter Slovinsky of the Maine Geological Survey. Slovinsky says while the threat of sea level rise is higher in southern Maine, all coastal communities should take heed. His Portland study considers a range of scenarios over the next century, from a rise of one foot to as much as six feet. And he's trying to get people to think differently about the more imminent threat of storm surge, as opposed to the longer-term issue of sea level rise. "One of the key phrases that I like to use is that we're planning for today's storms and tomorrow's tides," Slovinsky says. "Because today's storms--if we have a high tide plus a foot of surge, we can have flooding in downtown Portland and also in the Back Cove area." And the impact of flooding in the Back Cove area of Maine's largest city is of particular interest to Sam Merrill (above), associate research professor at the Muskie School of Public Service, and director of the New England Environmental Finance Center. At a public meeting next week, Merrill will present an analysis of the financial impacts of flooding in the Back Cove area, which is home to a number of businesses, including MPBN's radio news studios. "We're looking at the costs of inaction," Merrill says. His own projections also consider a range of scenarios. He finds even using fairly moderate predictions for sea level rise and storm surge, several hundred million dollars worth of damage is likely to be done to private property in the Bayside area. Merrill estimates that an investment in the short-term of around $100 million could save the city $400 million by 2050. At the moment, he says, Portland is not ready. Take for example the unusually high "king tide" that hit last October. "A lot of east Bayside was quite wet and under several inches of water. And the same over on Commercial Street," he says. "And that was just a high tide event, without storm surge." "It's time for us to start planning for our future, and plan our infrastructure investments and our zoning to accommodate those changes," says David Marshall, who chairs the city's Transportation Sustainability and Energy Committee, which is spearheading Portland's flood-readiness efforts. Marshall says a tightening of the building code is one possible response, as it has been in some coastal European cities. "In Hamburg, Germany, there's a requirement that in the waterfront area that the first floor be constructed 6 to 12 feet above sea level," he says. Some businesses are clearly already factoring in the flood risk. Marshall points out that the new Whole Foods retail outlet, which opened in Bayside five years ago, was built a few feet above the flood line. Local landlords also seem aware of the threat. "We think about it a lot," says Peter Quesada, vice-president of Fore River Management, whose properties include the building that's home to the MPBN Portland studios. "When we're looking at renovating existing buildings or building a new one, one of the things that we definitely are thinking about is getting the floor level of that building as high as we can, while also making it low enough to meet the handicap access requirements," Quesada says. Some business-owners, however, admit they're not taking the issue of storm surge and sea level rise as seriously as they might. Steve Konstantino owns Maine Green Building Supply, just a few blocks down from MPBN. "I haven't worried too much so far," he says. "I guess I have enough business worries already to keep moving, and I really have no idea how I would plan for a flood." Tom Porter: "You kind of put it to the back of your mind when you hear about it?" Steve Konstantino: "Yes."

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