Biddeford has joined a small number of Maine communities to declare a “climate emergency” and will now develop an action plan to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change.

Biddeford is the sixth community in Maine to pass a similar climate emergency declaration, following South Portland, Portland, Bar Harbor, Brunswick and Saco. More than 1,700 cities and towns across the globe have also declared climate emergencies.

The Conservation Committee will lead the work to create the action plan while working with city staff, the University of New England and others in the community. Steven Reiter, chairman of the Conservation Commission said the non-binding action plan is a “first step” for the city to address the serious impacts climate change is having and will have on the coastal city.

“In Biddeford, this declaration won’t be sitting on a shelf gathering dust. We will be pushing forward aggressively on this issue, and keeping the community informed as we proceed,” he said.

The declaration says the city accepts there is irrefutable and overwhelming scientific evidence that the planet is warming due to greenhouse gas emissions, the Gulf of Maine is warming at a rate 99 percent faster than global oceans, coastal zones within Biddeford are threatened by sea level rise, there is a high probability of increasing frequency and severity of coastal storms and that economic costs from the local effects of climate change are predicted to be significant.

It also acknowledges that “the effects of climate change will be irreversible within a short window of 7 to 15 year and that these effects will continue to worse.”

The climate emergency declaration requires the city to develop a plan to:

  • Account for and publicly report Biddeford’s current climate risk and greenhouse gas footprint using a standardized methodology and reporting system.
  • Address development of new construction in shoreland zones where such construction is in high-risk areas.
  • Develop an adaptation and mitigation strategy, which could include infrastructure and policy changes to accommodate changes the city is already experiencing and a strategy to reduce emissions.
  • Provide a timeline to move toward carbon neutrality in public buildings and public transportation.
  • Collaborate with the state of Maine and surrounding towns to contribute to an efficient and effective regional plan that makes the best use of collective resources.
  • Work with educational institutions such as UNE to coordinate community educational outreach and engage other communities, schools and non-profit organizations willing to participate.

The Conservation Commission began discussing a climate emergency declaration and the need for an action plan in January and made a presentation about it to the City Council in early March. But because of the coronavirus pandemic, the council did not consider taking action on the proposal until last week.

Richard Rhames, a Conservation Commission member and former city councilor, told the City Council that the city needs to take action to address climate change and change the way it thinks about development projects that cater to the “car culture.”

“The city is moving in exactly the wrong direction on a number of fronts. I don’t know if passage of this resolution could constitute a starting point or maybe the city decides to kind of recalibrate and take a fresh look at where we’re going,” he said.

Councilors were generally supportive of the declaration, but expressed concern the action plan will be a “feel-good” document if it is not put to use. The council voted 7-1 in support of the declaration on Oct. 6. Council President John McCurry was opposed and Councilor Robert Quattrone was not present for the vote.

“If this is the first step and we integrate it into the (comprehensive) plan and we think about it when we make choices, then maybe we could change the way we do things. I think we all need to come together and agree this is going to affect us,” Councilor Amy Clearwater said at the Oct. 6 meeting.

Councilor William Emhiser, whose ward includes coastal areas of Biddeford, said is fully supportive of the declaration and the city taking action.

“Sea level rise is an extreme issue, one that we deal with repeatedly,” he said. “I think that effecting a climate change initiative is positive, it’s good for our residents, and it will be good for our residents in many future years to come.”

Meaghan Daly, a Biddeford resident and environmental studies professor at UNE whose academic interests include climate change adaptation, urged the city to support the resolution and cited warming Gulf of Maine temperatures and the extreme drought in Aroostook County as evidence that climate change is already happening in Maine.

“It’s something that will have social, economic and environmental impacts here in Biddeford,” she said. “Passing this declaration will be the first step in allowing Biddeford to be a forward-looking city that can respond to both the causes and consequences of climate change in coming years.”

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