With their sandy beaches, sizable seasonal communities and thriving tourism appeal, sea level rise has the potential to sucker punch some of Maine’s most iconic coastal communities, including Bar Harbor, Old Orchard Beach and Kennebunk.

It will take Kennebunk months, if not years, to recover from the Jan. 10 and 13 storms that washed away beachfront streets and seawalls, damaged seasonal homes and historic hotels, and gouged the beaches that regularly land the town atop travelers’ lists of best beach towns.

Beach erosion can lead to the loss of tourism dollars along Maine’s southern coast, which is the most popular destination for day and overnight visitors. One in five visitors hit a beach while in Maine. The beach economy supports over 28,000 jobs and brings in $165.9 million in taxes.

On average, each beach tourist spends about $125. According to Maine Climate Council figures, however, that amount will fall to $71 by 2050, when beaches in Kennebunk and other communities will be overrun by 1.4 feet of sea level rise, and $32.50 by 2100 when sea level rise is projected to reach 3.9 feet.

Rising sea levels and more frequent and ferocious storms threaten more than just beaches in towns like Kennebunk. Without improvements that could run between $4.5 million and $13.6 million, Kennebunk’s wastewater treatment facility is likely to be overrun by rising seas by 2050. And beachfront neighborhoods will face more flooding and eventually find themselves in the intertidal zone.

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