Phippsburg’s Acre Lot Wharf Courtesy of Troy Watson

Harpswell has hired a marine engineering company to assess how three coastal sites in the region will fare against fallout from climate change — namely rising seas and storm surges.

Harpswell selectmen unanimously voted to have Freeport-based Baker Design Consultants conduct a resiliency analysis on three sites: Garrison Cove boat launch on Bailey Island in Harpswell, Sabino Landing in West Bath, and Acre Lot Wharf in Phippsburg.

According to the contract from the town, the resiliency analysis on the three landings will “account for impacts from current and projected sea level rise, storm surge and king tide events.” The final report the company will give the town will include “flood risk assessments, recommendations for improvements, preliminary designs, cost estimates and implementation strategies for each of the three sights,” the agreement states.

With the contract signed, work on the project is expected to begin next month. Harpswell will receive the final report in August 2022. The assessment will cost up to $28,000 and is funded through a grant from the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future.

The coastal resiliency analysis is part of a larger state pilot project — the Community Resilience Pilot Project — created by the Mills administration to address and prepare for the effects climate change will have on Maine.

Harpswell, West Bath and Phippsburg were grouped together to represent the Midcoast in the project. Windham and Bridgton make up another group and Caribou, Washburn and Fort Fairfield make up the third group selected for the project.

Harpswell Conservation Commission Chairperson Mary Ann Nahf said representatives from Harpswell, West Bath and Phippsburg all chose one site in their communities to be assessed through the program. She said Harpswell chose the Garrison Cove boat launch because “sea level rise is going to impact it to the point where its ability to function will be compromised.”

“Not only that, but it’s not in good repair now, so this is the time where we look at what we need to do before we make repairs to make it usable in the long run,” said Nahf. “It’s supposed to get us thinking as the town begins to prioritize which projects need to be addressed first.”

The assessment will show what may happen to the three sites when sea level rises 1.5 feet and 4 feet higher than the current level, according to Nahf.

Baker Design Consultants President Barney Baker said once communities receive the results of the assessment, they’re usually “faced with the choice of moving infrastructure further inland or armoring the coastline to reduce damage from wave action.”

Sam Belknap, a Senior Community Development Officer at The Island Institute, a Rockland-based nonprofit organization aimed at helping Maine’s island and coastal communities tackle environmental and socio-economic issues, said every coastal community in Maine is facing a unique set of challenges incited by climate change. Taking the initiative to see how important coastal infrastructure could be impacted puts communities in a better position to protect themselves.

Communities who conduct resilience analysis and gain an idea of what work needs to be done to protect coastal areas from climate change are also usually more likely to win grants to have that work done, said Belknap.

“With a project like this, it’s great to see the focus on coastal infrastructure,” said Belknap. “Working waterfronts play such a critical role in all our coastal communities; they’re the critical interface where the ocean meets our economy. Making sure they’re as resilient as possible is critical to the long-term success of our coastal economy and these communities.”

A study published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in August 2021 found the Gulf of Maine, which stretches from Cape Cod to Nova Scotia, is warming faster than 99% of the world’s oceans.

Belknap also said warming waters impact what species of fish or crustaceans inhabit Maine waters and, once caught, fuel the economy, so having the foresight to research and prepare will put the state in a better position to adapt to future changes.

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