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Guest column: Harpswell facing up to climate change

As the Maine town with the longest coastline, Harpswell is particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise. But the town government is up to the job, with its dedicated, hard-working Conservation Commission studying the effects of climate change on town roads and wetlands since 2010.

In 2015, together with the MidCoast Council of Governments, the commission mapped areas of Harpswell that could be flooded with a rise in sea level of one to six feet. These spots included 16 public roads that could be overtopped with water at a rise of six feet. Thirteen of these roads could be overtopped at a 3-foot sea-level rise, and five at only a 1-foot rise. In this last group is Basin Point Road, a road that the Conservation Commission chose last spring to study under a Coastal Community Planning Grant to better understand the implications of sea-level rise on town infrastructure.

Basin Point Road was a good choice, providing the only land access to the Dolphin Marina and Restaurant, with more than 90 employees and serving some 85,000 people in 2016. Add to this daily traffic, customers of several other firms plus residents of about 115 homes, and you can see it’s a busy road vital to commuters and customers. The area inland of the road at its lowest point belongs to Harpswell Heritage Land Trust, a partner in the grant project. And that part of the road is undeveloped, making potential road reconstruction less disturbing.

After nine months of study with the help of Gorrill Palmer, Harpswell’s contract engineers, the Conservation Commission held a public workshop this past fall on the study’s findings. Project engineer Will Haskell laid out three possible responses the Town can take to rising sea-levels and increased flooding, as follows:

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