June 24, 2018
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Portland braces for high seas, worse storms as climate change study is released

By Seth Koenig, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — Portland Mayor Michael Brennan and City Councilor David Marshall on Wednesday called for the city to plan ahead for rising sea levels and worsening storms as research group Environment Maine released its latest report on climate change.

Marshall — chairman of the council’s Transportation, Sustainability and Energy Committee — said Portland can be proactive not only by preparing for storm surges and weather changes, but also by doing its part to cut down on greenhouse gases that most scientists believe are driving global warming.

Marshall, long a proponent of more efficient public transportation, renewed calls for progress in connecting Maine service centers by commuter rail in an effort to reduce the numbers of cars on the roads. He also reiterated a goal of real-time tracking of city buses, so potential riders can check on their arrival times through smartphones or laptops and be more confident in the public transportation scheduling.

“City Council has worked to reduce the carbon emissions by the city government by making our buildings more energy-efficient,” he continued. “ The energy services contract we’ve entered into has reduced our carbon emissions by 32 percent, which is the equivalent of pulling 900 cars off of the streets.”

The councilor went on to say that city officials should ensure building codes and zoning ordinances account for sea level rise and more dramatic storm surges — which Environment Maine’s report indicated will be likely — by raising structures above higher flood plain estimates. Marshall also suggested the city could develop zoning to encourage more development in areas less susceptible to rising water.

“I look forward to working with Councilor Marshall and the other city councilors to focus much more on how we can develop the city of Portland in a way that takes into account the potential effects of extreme weather,” Brennan said. “So when we’re talking about waterfront development — when we’re talking about developing East Bayside, when we’re talking about developing the Back Cove — we’re taking into account the potential effect of extreme weather, and we’re planning for that 20, 30, 40 and 50 years into the future, and not just focusing our efforts on remedial intervention or responding to a disaster.”

Joining Brennan and Marshall during the news conference Wednesday morning were Red Cross Emergency Services Director Michael Mason and Anika James, a field associate with Environment Maine, the local arm of Environment America. The organization’s latest report, “In the Path of the Storm: Global Warming, Extreme Weather, and the Impacts of Weather-Related Disasters in the United States,” tracks an uptick in federally declared weather-related disasters over the past five years.

The group attributes the increase in large part to climate change, and uses the statistics to reinforce its support for the Obama administration’s forthcoming carbon pollution and fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks, as well as strong carbon pollution standards for coal-fired power plants.

In 2011, James said Wednesday, the number of weather-related disasters causing more than $1 billion in damage reached 14, a record for the country and one that added up to a cost of $55 billion.

In Maine, she said, federally declared weather-related disasters affected all 16 counties between 2006 and 2011, with York and Lincoln counties declared disaster areas seven times during that span.

James said Mainers can expect more frequent heavy downfalls of precipitation, increasing likelihoods of unseasonably warm weather and more intense hurricanes as the years press on.

“Rather than tying global warming to any particular storms,” she said, “we like to say that global warming loads the dice. … Each weather event has a higher likelihood of becoming a severe weather event because of global warming.”

On Friday, Brennan will return to the podium to take part in a presentation and community discussion of sea level rise and storm surges at the University of Southern Maine, where the New England Environmental Finance Center plans to unveil its study on dangers facing low-lying Portland neighborhoods such as the Back Cove area.

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