This historic home on Anderson Street in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood is one of many in the area that could be especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. It’s Italianate features, such as the double entry doors and decorative molding, could be easily damaged by high winds, according to Greater Portland Landmarks. Contributed

PORTLAND — Historic structures face many challenges, including development pressures and fragility.

Now comes the threat of sea level rise and increases in storm intensity related to climate change.

In response, Greater Portland Landmarks is conducting a first-of-its-kind survey this summer in two vulnerable neighborhoods: Bayside in Portland and Ferry Village in South Portland.

The survey is designed to document historic resources that are at increased risk due to the impacts of climate change, according to Julie Ann Larry, director of advocacy for Landmarks. Those impacts include not only flooding, but high winds and increasing heat.

While several local initiatives have looked into how climate change could affect the infrastructure in waterfront communities, there has been no study addressing the impact of sea level rise on historic structures, Larry said.

The goal of the project, she said, is to help property owners and civic leaders take steps toward making important historic structures more resilient to climate impacts. Landmarks also hopes the survey will help the cities of Portland and South Portland as they compile a joint Climate Action and Adaptation Plan.

Greater Portland Landmarks is surveying hundreds of historic structures in Portland and South Portland most at risk through climate change. Contributed

The project to document at-risk historical structures has taken on increased urgency because the Natural Resources Council of Maine said the two cities are among the top 20 communities in the state to be affected by sea level rise. In addition, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association has recently increased its projections for sea level rise expected in the Casco Bay region, which will lead to more frequent tidal flooding associated with storm surges and King Tides.

Portland’s Bayside neighborhood is a 230-acre area bounded by Cumberland Avenue, Interstate 295, and Forest and Washington avenues, Larry said. It encompasses approximately 266 historic residential, industrial, and commercial resources built before 1969 and it’s already been impacted by extreme tidal flooding. The neighborhood is so vulnerable because it was created, in part, by filling in mudflats along Back Cove during the mid-19th century.

Ferry Village is South Portland’s oldest neighborhood and historic commercial center. Located between the Fore River and Broadway, near Southern Maine Community College, it’s now a popular residential area, according to Landmarks. The neighborhood is roughly 175 acres in size and encompasses approximately 280 historic resources built before 1969.

Interns are conducting the historic resources survey and are working to photograph each historic building in both neighborhoods, Larry said. She said information on each building’s style, materials, and resiliency to climate change will be recorded and entered into the Maine Historic Preservation Commission’s database.

The survey is being partially funded with a grant from the National Park Services’ Historic Preservation Fund, Larry said, as the first phase in a longer-term effort. Ultimately, Landmarks hopes to provide property owners with a variety of key resources and assistance in terms of hazard mitigation. For more information see portlandlandmarks.org/climate-change.

Located on Pine Street in South Portland’s Ferry Village neighborhood, this home was built circa 1889 and is one of the historic structures Greater Portland Landmarks fears could suffer from climate change impacts. Contributed

While the climate change debate is still raging in political circles, Larry said the effects of increasing heat, sea level rise and other extreme weather events are already impacting historic resources in greater Portland.

“It’s important to plan for how to mitigate or protect historic resources from the effects of these events, just as we would protect properties from fire, winter storms, or other causes that can lead to deterioration or loss,” she said.

Landmarks is not the only organization focusing on the impacts of climate change locally.

In May, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s High Water Mark Initiative provided Portland with signs at Portland Pier, the Eastern Promenade, Back Cove and the Fore River Trail that indicate where sea levels are expected to be by 2050. The hope is the signs will be helpful in encouraging residents and policymakers to come together and create solutions.

The city also has several other efforts underway to combat sea level rise and flood risks, including the Bayside Adapts project and the Climate Action initiative, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050 and move Portland toward 100 percent clean energy operations by 2040.

In addition, the Nature Conservancy in Maine has worked with Bowdoin College in Brunswick, the Maine Geological Survey, and Blue Sky Planning Solutions to develop the Coastal Risk Explorer, a web-based mapping tool that uses projected sea level rise scenarios to better understand which locations would be cut off from emergency medical services due to road flooding.

According to the 2018 National Climate Assessment, sea level rise and precipitation are expected to surge in coastal areas over the next several decades.

“The ocean is now rising at an ever-faster rate, and the possibility that we could see a 6-foot increase is now more likely than ever,” a recent Nature Conservancy in Maine newsletter said, adding the state has already lost $70 million in home values due to coastal flooding.


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