Sea-level rise caused by climate change could put substantial portions of Stonington under water in the next 81 years, with some key areas facing flooding during moderate storms as early as 11 years from now, according to a study commissioned by town officials.
Released Tuesday, the draft report by GEI Consultants, Inc. of Portland examines flooding scenarios caused by sea level rise and storm surges at three points in the future — the years 2030, 2050 and 2100.
The numbers are estimates and some will be corrected in the final report, but they underline the urgency of dealing with the impacts of global warming immediately, said Henry Teverow, Stonington’s economic development director and a member of the Stonington Flood Vulnerability Advisory Committee.
“We have to start planning, setting aside money for future capital projects. We have to start getting prepared for this right now,” Teverow said. “What we will need are real engineered blueprints for each [piece of town-owned infrastructure] identified in this report.”
According to the GEI study, in the year 2030, several areas of Stonington could flood during moderate storms if the sea level around the island town rises 10 inches, which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in 2017 was the intermediate level of sea level rise expected due to climate change.
Those areas are the fire station at Hagen Dock on Atlantic Avenue; the only public boat ramp on Deer Isle, on Colwells Lane; and Ocean Street in downtown Stonington. Also facing flooding in moderate storms: Fifield Point Road, home of one of the island’s major lobster dealers; the tourist haven of Sand Beach Road; and the residential neighborhood of Whitman Road in Burnt Cove, according to the study.
In 2050, if the sea level rise rises 19 inches, portions of the neighborhoods of Rhode Island and Seabreeze roads will face flooding in mild storms. In 2100, if sea level rises 48 inches, as NOAA expects under its moderate projections, portions of residential Bayview Street; the commercial section of Main Street; the town-owned Fish Pier; and the home of Stonington’s only grocery store, on Burnt Cove Road, will face flooding during mild storms, according to the study.
The Island Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to aiding the survival of Maine’s islands, is assessing the exact economic impact of these potential losses to sea level rise, Teverow said.
Leila Pike, a water resources engineer with GEI, spent a year developing the draft report. She hopes to finalize the report by early next year, with another report outlining steps to correct the flooding problems finished by the end of 2020, she said.
Once the report is finalized, the committee will hold at least one public meeting on it. The committee will also begin searching for grant money to fund next steps, including engineered designs for flood remediation, Teverow said.