by Dylan Voorhees, NRCM energy project director
Good morning and welcome. My name is Dylan Voorhees and I’m the Clean Energy Director at the Natural Resource Council of Maine. Today the Natural Resources Council of Maine is revealing what we believe to be the most comprehensive look to date at the impact of sea level rise on the coast of Maine. The results are alarming. As revealed in the maps and analysis created by NRCM, the impact of sea-rise on our economy, our environment and our treasured places would be devastating, unless we do more to stop global warming.
Combining state-of-the-art computer mapping and the latest scientific studies of melting glaciers and rising sea-level, NRCM analyzed the areas that would be submerged when sea-level rises by one-meter or six-meters (3-feet and 20-feet respectively.) The total impact on coastal land would be at least 20,000 acres under a 3-foot rise and 128,000 acres under a 20-foot rise. The maps of Maine would need to be redrawn.
After measuring the affected areas along the entire coast of Maine, we zoomed-in on several communities that would be particularly hard hit. We used aerial photos to provide Mainer’s with a snapshot into the future of what coastal communities and shoreline would look like if global warming continues unchecked.
Here are a few of the more troubling impacts along Maine’s beloved coast:
• The Cranberry Isles could be radically transformed from five islands to thirteen, losing 30% of their total surface area.
• More than 12,000 acres of land could be submerged on islands in Penobscot Bay including Vinalhaven and Deer Isle, which would destroy fire departments, public libraries, and other coastal properties.
• Reid State Park in Georgetown would be totally spoiled.
• Bath Ironworks, the state’s largest private employer, would be ruined by the smaller sea-level rise and completely flooded in the higher scenario.
• 1000 acres of downtown Portland could be wiped out, including all of Commercial Street and portions of Interstate 295.
• Scarborough Marsh, one of the largest and most valued wildlife sanctuaries in the entire region, would be almost completely destroyed.
• Most of the village of Kennebunkport along with President Bush’s family home on Walker’s point would be entirely submerged.
NRCM identified 20 high-risk coastal communities, from Beals to York. These towns will lose more acres of land, miles of road and more public buildings than other towns—they could be devastated—but the impact for Maine is far greater than the statistics for any one town.
Six million people visit the Maine coast every year, and our tourism industry generates $3.5 billion of economic activity. Many of these visitors left Vacationland after Labor Day—but we expect them to return, not just next year but for many generations. Maine tourism is “destination-based,” and our destinations are at risk. Reid State Park, Popham Beach, Crescent Beach, Ferry Beach—could all be damaged beyond recognition unless we act soon to prevent global warming from getting out of control. In reality the value of these treasured coastal places cannot be monetized. They are the places we knew when we were children, where fond memories were formed. That is why sea-level rise could strike at Maine’s very identity.
Thousands of families stand to lose the homes they have vacationed in year after year. However, year-long residents need to be concerned, too. Simply adding up the assessed value of two small Portland neighborhoods, East Deering and Baxter Boulevard, yields $70 million in property that would be totally lost under a 20-foot rise. The value of real estate which would be submerged in expensive coastal communities in Southern Maine could top $1 billion.
One of the most vulnerable aspects of our economy is public infrastructure. Roads, bridges, schools, libraries, water supplies and wastewater treatment facilities. In South Portland alone, four fire stations, the police department, a middle school and an elementary school all could be submerged. All along the coast, more than thirty municipal buildings would need to be replaced at great cost, as would many miles of roads and highways. Imagine the strain on our municipal and state budgets if we had to replace them. What Maine town has a fund stashed away to pay for a brand new sewer treatment facility if their current system is overrun with sea water?
The natural environment is as vulnerable as our human communities. Coastal habitat provides critical ecosystems and breeding grounds for hundreds of species, some of which are already threatened or endangered. Rising seas would particularly harm salt marshes and beaches where species like the Piping Plover and Roseate Tern nest exclusively. Here in Maine we take our environmental protection seriously; we’ve spent millions to protect and preserve habitat. Sea-level rise presents Maine’s environment with a new threat of enormous proportion, one that we cannot protect against with conservation easements.
Today we know that global warming is melting glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica much, much faster than we thought just a few years ago. The 3-foot scenario represents a middle-of-the-road projection based on the course we’re now on. As a result of faster melting, we must also confront the possibility of a 20-foot rise. The more we learn, the more we have had to revise our expectations, almost always in the worst direction. According to some scientists, NRCM’s analysis is conservative because it doesn’t take into account erosion and storm surge—which every coastal property owner knows magnify the power of the sea.
As we take stock of global warming today, some things have changed—the rate of glacial melting is accelerating—and some things, unfortunately, have not—the United States continues to pour increasing amounts of global warming pollution into the air, more than any other country. More than China, more than India, more than Europe.
If global warming continues unabated, then portions of Maine’s coastline will be forever changed. But we have the power the change course if we choose. That is why we are calling for increased efforts at every level to reduce global warming pollution. The most dangerous impacts of sea-level rise can still be avoided, but widespread action is needed now. According to scientists, we have a shrinking window of opportunity to change our course—measured in years not decades. There is a slow-moving hurricane Katrina headed for Maine and the question is, will we notice and take action?
Maine has shown good initial leadership by individuals, cities like Portland, and by the State – but we need to increase our actions to boost energy efficiency, expand renewable energy, and cut carbon emissions from transportation.
As these maps make clear, the cost of inaction is enormous. But global warming is not like an earthquake—we can prevent it with the tools we already have at our fingertips. We invite citizens across Maine to take our Global Warming Challenge and reduce their emissions by 1500 pounds per year. Businesses can take the Governor’s Carbon Challenge. And everyone should join us in calling on our elected leaders to get serious about global warming before it is too late. Thank you.