I don’t have to tell you that sea level rise poses a serious threat to Old Orchard Beach. You’ve seen it. We are experiencing it. The most recent storm that flooded Old Orchard Beach was illustrative of the change we are already dealing with. According to state data, a 1.6-foot sea level rise would reduce our dry beach by almost a third of its width.
OOB, like many coastal Maine communities, has an economy reliant on having a healthy and safe coastline to support tourism and recreation. Not to mention homes in danger of being washed away.
Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the OOB town workshop with the Southern Maine Planning & Development Commission, where I’m on their board. In case you didn’t know, the Southern Maine Planning & Development Commission, or SMPDC for short, is a non-partisan nonprofit that cultivates thriving, sustainable communities and strengthens local governments by leading regional economic development and planning that includes transportation, climate & sustainability, and cooperative purchasing for 39 member towns in Southern Maine. Every year, the York County Commission appoints a commissioner to represent county interests on their executive committee and I’m honored to serve this year. Learn more about the group at smpdc.org.
This workshop centered around how climate change is impacting OOB, how to take advantage of the Community Resilience Partnership with the state, and the process for tapping into 50K or 125K grant monies for specific climate action or clean energy projects.
The Community Resilience Partnership is a new program from Governor Janet Mills through her Office of Policy Innovation and the Future. The goal is to help Maine communities reduce emissions and prepare for the impacts of climate change. Included in the program is both grant funding to fuel various local projects and direct support for climate mitigation. There are around 134 communities that have either taken advantage of or are in the process of enrolling.
There are 3 key steps to enrolling in the partnership, which OOB is well on its way to achieving: completing a community self-assessment, holding a public workshop to determine climate priorities, and adopting a municipal resolution.
The public discussed a number of ideas to utilize the funds including maximizing energy efficiency through solar, establishing a community bike share program, installing flooding/erosion monitoring, starting vulnerability assessments, constructing sand dune structural support, joining multi-community climate staff support, and more. Other communities in the partnership have established community engagement committees to discuss and explore ideas going forward.
We need your voice in this grant process. Old Orchard Beach residents can submit their ideas and comments on potential climate action and energy efficiency projects to Tim Fleury at TFleury@oobmaine.com by March 6th. As part of the next phase of this process, the town council will be working on drafting a resolution stating their commitment to climate action. The next round of action grants become available for application this Spring.
I applaud the town council and manager for prioritizing this topic and for working hand in hand with the state. The town has already taken several important steps beyond this particular grant process including upgrading energy efficient lighting, establishing EV in their municipal fleet, and collaborating with other communities on securing shared solar power.
OOB is not currently included in the 6-town staff sharing arrangement, the Regional Sustainability and Resilience Program, which works to foster more sustainable and resilient communities by leveraging regional collaboration to enhance the effectiveness of local government action. Kittery, Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, Ogunquit, Wells, and York sought to create a regional program to support their individual sustainability and coastal resiliency efforts. We learned at this meeting that OOB can join anytime if the resources are there to participate. Having expert staff, regional coordination, and collaboration across multiple levels of government is critical to ensuring we are all working together towards the same goal. York County, by way of the SMPDC, can help lead and assist with this effort.
As someone who spent 8 years at the state house introducing and co-sponsoring legislation aimed at protecting our environment, this is a cause that I’m particularly passionate about. While this one grant is just a drop in the bucket, we must take every chance we get to find urgent solutions that enhance our resiliency and do our part to address a crisis that will impact every single living thing on this planet.
Justin Chenette is the County Commissioner for Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Hollis, & Buxton and serves as vice chair of the commission. He also serves on the executive committee of the Southern Maine Planning & Development Commission, Maine Right to Know Advisory Committee, Age Friendly Saco board, and provides college scholarships through his foundation. Get county updates at CommissionerChenette.com.