As the state’s top lobster port, Stonington is keen to protect its fishing fleet’s ability to trap, sell and ship its catch from this bridged island in Down East Maine to far-flung destinations for as long as the Gulf of Maine is cold enough to sustain them.

Data shows that warming waters are nudging lobster populations ever northward, but the Jan. 10 and 13 storms served up a harsh reminder that climate change poses more immediate threats to the island: the powerful one-two punch of sea level rise and storm surge.

With winds up to 61 mph, the Jan. 10 storm and its 4-foot storm surge devastated the island’s lobster infrastructure, destroying the docks where the town’s 470 lobstermen buy bait and fuel and sell about 11 million pounds of lobster a year valued at almost $45 million.

The storm washed out sections of Oceanville Road, Allen Street, Ocean Street and the Moose Island causeway; damaged a sanitary station pump; and flooded the fire hall basement. The town incurred about $200,000 in total damage, according to manager Kathleen Billings.

Billings Diesel & Marine suffered minor flooding in the machine shop. The storm swept Dockside Books and Gifts off its foundation and into a building 10 feet away, causing $20,000 in stock losses. The 27 Fathoms Waterfront Grill, newly opened in a small space built over the harbor, was destroyed.

Stonington is currently planning for rising sea levels and future storms that blow in atop the highest monthly tides, but it has yet to implement adaptation strategies to avoid road washouts, marooned residents and saltwater intrusion into its drinking water supply.

The most obvious is the causeway linking Stonington to the mainland, which was under 18 inches of water shortly after Jan. 10’s high tide, but it’s not the island’s only roadway worry. More pressing are the people cut off from local emergency services during monthly high tides now.

In a 2021 vulnerability study, consultants identified half a mile of pavement across five island roads – three of which washed out in the Jan. 10 storm – that should be raised to keep 158 homes and businesses from being marooned during a present-day storm or the highest monthly tides by 2050.

The cost? At least $2 million, according to the study. Marooning those buildings, however, could result in a loss of tax income or the life of a cut-off resident or emergency responder trying to pass over a flooded road. It takes just 12 inches of rushing water to carry away most cars.

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