May 21, 2018
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Consulting team helps Eastport chart an eco-friendly course for the future

By Tom Walsh, BDN Staff

EASTPORT, Maine — Through a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, community leaders in the Washington County coastal community of Eastport are meeting this week with a team of three city planners to explore new, energy-friendly strategies for charting the future of this historic port town of 1,350.

Eastport is one of 15 cities and towns nationwide selected by the EPA to work with planning consultants from Smart Growth America. The Washington, D.C.-based firm advocates for comprehensive planning that can help communities such as Eastport maintain and sustain its small-town charm in economically viable and eco-friendly ways. Communities as large as New Orleans were selected for the program, as was the Northern Maine Development Commission, which is based in Caribou and serves Aroostook and Washington counties.

The Smart Growth planning team met Monday evening, Sept. 24, with 25 Eastport community leaders and others concerned about Eastport’s future and eager to undertake some meaningful, long-term planning in Washington County’s very uncertain and unstable economic climate. Among those who spoke Monday was Roger Millar, a civil engineer who is vice president of Smart Growth America’s Leadership Institute and a former planner for communities large and small in Montana.

“We take local problems and bring some national expertise to crafting a local solution that works for the town,” Millar explained before his team’s hourlong presentation at the Tides Institute & Studioworks within Eastport’s downtown historic district. “That includes local solutions to global warming and might include new ways to heat homes, new ways to provide energy to homes and things that save people money and create new jobs locally.

“We don’t have any plans for Eastport,” he said. “When we leave here we hope to have developed some ideas and policies you can use together as you think about what your plans are for your community. … The team will write up its findings and recommend next steps to the community, which the community can modify any way the community wants to. We look to [the community] to come back to us a month later, or six months later, and tell us what they’re doing, and we’ll follow up.”

Mandi Roberts, a Smart Growth land use and transportation planner, stressed at Monday’s presentation the need for communities large and small to address head-on the effects of climate change. A predicted a two-foot rise in sea levels worldwide by the end of this century, she said, will consume 10,000 square miles of shoreline in the United States alone.

Tom Puttman, a Smart Growth city planner who has helped neighborhoods in and around Portland, Oregon, become more energy efficient encouraged Eastport’s leaders to consider developing a community energy plan, which he said involves a three-step process of “vision, assessment and implementation.”

The discussion that followed Monday’s presentation touched on a range of issues confronting Eastport, including its abundance of older housing stock and homes heated with obsolete, oil-burning furnaces. Many of those old houses, it was noted, are home to an increasingly aging population which may not have the means to winterize or to upgrade to higher-efficiency heating systems.

Millar’s team also hosted a daylong workshop Tuesday that included both strategy sessions and walking tours of the community as a means of identifying specific strengths and needs. Among those participating was Eastport City Manager Jonathan Southern.

“The whole experience was pretty positive,” Southern said Tuesday after the two days of events wrapped up. “It was the first time community leaders had come together for a discussion emphasizing sustainability. We’re kind of in an introductory phase in terms of determining where do we go next. But I hope the findings will be useful in revising our comprehensive plan, which is a process that will begin in about two years.”

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