The towns of Bridgton and Windham are teaming up with Greater Portland Council of Governments to explore how climate climate change is impacting their inland communities now and how it could in the future.

The two towns are among eight communities across the state chosen for a pilot program to plan projects relating to climate resiliency planning. The program is funded by a $125,000 grant from the Maine Climate Council.

“With increasing storm events, droughts and rising sea levels, Maine’s climate action plan calls for empowering communities to help them become more resilient to the impacts of climate change,” said Hannah Pingree, co-chairperson of the council and director of the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future. “The partnerships behind this pilot project will help inform the state as it seeks to increase both funding and technical assistance to support crucial resilience planning for Maine’s cities and towns.”

While much of the climate change focus in the state has been on how the sea level rise will impact coastal Maine, “climate change is going to affect everyone, everywhere,” said Linda LaCroix, Bridgton’s community development director.

This summer municipal staff and elected officials in Bridgton and Windham will participate in a series of workshops about how climate change is impacting the region.

The training will help town officials “understand what the potential next steps might be, examine what the climate hazards might be in the future or are already happening,” said Sara Mills-Knapp, GPCOG’s sustainability program director. Participants will then prioritize the needs for their towns and apply to the state for funding for their projects.

“The first step is to look at what the concerns are, the problems we anticipate and then start to look at the impact of things,” LaCroix  said.

Gretchen Anderson, Windham’s environmental and sustainability coordinator, said inland communities, like Windham and Bridgton, face a variety of climate-related concerns, including  “climate volatility, extreme weather events and environmental change.”

“Increased frequency of heavy precipitation events have damaged our public infrastructure like roads and pipes, which were not originally sized to handle these types of events,” Anderson said. “Additionally, reported landslides on the Pleasant River could be attributed to these extreme precipitation events, impacting water quality, property values and pose a safety risk to residents. These are two examples of the many impacts affecting Maine communities.”

Particular concerns in Bridgton, LaCroix said, include how lakes and the fish and animals that live in and near them will be impacted by increased precipitation, how the community will rebound in cases of flooding and how it can increase public transportation to reduce its carbon footprint.

“This is about community planning,” LaCroix said. “You look at where the issues are and what the possible solutions are. The key is coming up with decisions that result in equitable actions.”

The pilot project comes on the heels of Maine Won’t Wait, a climate action plan the Maine Climate Council released in 2020 that aims to reduce emissions by 45% by 2030 and 80% by 2050 . The plan urges the state to help communities build climate resiliency by incorporating climate change, such as sea level rise, increased flooding and changing weather, into land use planning and looking at the impacts climate change has on public health.

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