A 2018 ocean storm did $5 million in damage along the York County coast. A $160,000 federal grant announced will help the Southern Maine Planning and Development Commission plan on how to ease the effect of coastal storms and create a more resilient tourism industry. Courtesy photo

KENNEBUNK – Federal funds will flow into a program designed to ease the effect of coastal storms and create a more resilient tourism industry for six southern Maine towns: Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, Kittery, Ogunquit, Wells and York.

U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King jointly announced that the Economic Development Administration has awarded $160,000 to the Southern Maine Planning and Development Commission. The funding will support the commission’s development of an economic resiliency strategy to mitigate the effects of recent and future natural disasters in York County.

“These six towns account for a substantial amount of the state’s tourism activity and revenue,” said Paul Schumacher, executive director of the commission. “It is the most visited region in the state of Maine.

Schumacher, quoting 2018 Maine Revenue Service figures, said tourism is the most important industry in the coastal communities of York County, providing for 24 percent of Maine’s lodging sales tax.

The grant, which was received April 21, will be used to develop an immediate plan.

“We will help businesses and town governments in the coastal communities anticipate the impact of natural disasters and take action to minimize those impacts,” Schumacher wrote. “We will also study longer term solutions to lessen the negative economic impact of climate change. The study will be an important blueprint to prioritize future infrastructure investments and foster a regional approach to these issues.”

According to commission officials, the plan is designed to: quantify the current tourism and economic contribution of the six towns; analyze the impact of climate change on tourism and recreation in the region; identify the potential economic impact of future disasters and climate change on the York County economy, including infrastructure risk; and identify business resiliency planning needs and explore options for upgrading at-risk infrastructure.

Schumacher said that the impact of the grant will be felt statewide.

Southern Maine Planning and Developing applied for the grant after a significant storm roared up the East Coast in early 2018 and caused $5  million  in damages to southern Maine coastal towns, resulting in an emergency declaration for York County from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The damage created access issues to beaches and businesses that lasted well into the summer tourism season. Photos of damage and boulder-strewn roads published on social media led to suppressed visitor activity in the short and longer term, according to the commission.

“Natural disasters have the potential to disrupt the way of life in southern Maine communities, many of which rely heavily on the tourism industry to fuel their local economies, said Sens. Collins and King in the joint statement. “We welcome this investment in the communities in southern Maine, which will help municipalities develop plans to be as prepared as possible in the event of a flood or other natural disaster.”