PORTLAND – Bayside is a hot spot for developers in Portland, with new stores and offices sprouting along Marginal Way.
But even conservative estimates of sea level rise suggest that area could be underwater by the end of the century.
The Portland Society of Architects will be looking at concerns like that during a two-day event called “Rising Tides,” that aims to draw attention to the issue of sea level rise by looking at some likely effects in Portland and South Portland.
The goal is to come up with concrete policy proposals for city and town officials in southern Maine to consider and to let the public know what areas might be vulnerable to rising sea levels, leading to a public discussion of the issues, said Paul Stevens, an architect at SMRT and president of the society.
“Although people don’t agree on the details, it’s pretty clear this is happening,” Stevens said of the rise. “Architects are all about planning ahead and that’s what this is all about.”
Stevens noted that there have already been warning signs of rising sea levels, with storm surges causing flooding along Commercial Street and Marginal Way in recent years. Continued increases in sea levels, he said, could make those temporary impacts permanent.
Beyond buildings, sea level rise could damage water and sewer systems and roads, he said.
Rising Tides will feature a panel discussion between 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. today at the Ocean Gateway Terminal. Speakers will be Christophe Tulou, director of the District of Columbia’s Department of the Environment; Sam Merrill, director of the New England Environmental Finance Center at the Muskie School of Public Service; and Kristina Hill, an associate professor and chair of landscape architecture at the University of Virginia.
The issue of sea level rise will affect Portland as much as any coastal city, said Scott Tompkins, a PSA board member.
He noted that a recent prediction, issued this week by a Swedish researcher, calls for sea level rises of 5 feet by the end of this century.
“If that’s the case, there are pretty large swaths of Portland and South Portland underwater,” Tompkins said, mentioning neighborhoods such as Back Cove and Bayside in Portland, Mill Creek in South Portland, and the Portland waterfront.
Tompkins said other U.S. communities are ahead of Portland in planning for the possibility of sea level rise, and other countries are well ahead of even the most advanced U.S. efforts.
Stevens said the issue ties into the whole concept of sustainability, the subject of a PSA event two years ago.
For developers and architects, he said, there’s a very real dollars-and-cents impact to the issue: Insurance companies may soon start to refuse to write policies to cover buildings in areas seen as especially vulnerable to flooding from sea level rises, making those projects unfeasible.
Tulou, Stevens said, has worked as a consultant to insurers and is expected to discuss that aspect tonight.
The two events are open the public. The cost is $5 for PSA members and $10 for nonmembers, which covers admission to the discussion tonight at Ocean Gateway or a follow-up Friday morning from 8:30 to 11 at DiMillo’s Floating Restaurant on Commercial Street.
“We feel it’s important for this to be on the city’s radar and for developers, it needs to be on their radar,” Stevens said. “The idea is to come out with action items and we need to understand what’s vulnerable and what’s important.”
Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: