Maine wants to help 10 coastal towns prepare for rising seas in Penobscot Bay

State officials are hoping to find out which areas around the shores of Penobscot Bay are most vulnerable to rising seas and how to help protect them.

The Maine Coastal Program, part of the state Department of Marine Resources, has received a federal grant of slightly more than $200,000 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that it plans to use to hire a consultant to study the phenomenon, according to Matthew Nixon, a staffer with the program. Communities slated to participate in the study include Belfast, Camden, Castine, Lincolnville, North Haven, Rockland, Searsport, South Thomaston, Stonington and Vinalhaven.

“We hope to get the project running next month,” Nixon said, adding that the program has yet to choose a consultant to conduct the study. “We are in the midst of reviewing applications collected through a Request For Proposal process and hope to have a contract in place by the middle of April.”

The impact of rising seas and worsening storms, caused by a warming climate that is melting polar ice caps and making sea water expand, has emerged as a concern for oceanfront communities around the globe.

In Maine, where the Gulf of Maine is warming more quickly than 99.9 percent of the rest of the planet’s oceans, rising seas threaten heavily polluted sites such as the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and the Callahan Mine in Brooksville. In recent years the combination of rising seas and storm surge have caused flooding and damage in communities spread out along the entire coast — including Kennebunkport, Portland, Belfast and Lubec, to name a few.

Nixon said there are three objectives for the study around Penobscot Bay. One is to determine a baseline for the effects of sea level rise in the participating cities and towns. The second is to use storm surge and sea level rise models to identify waterfront resources and facilities that are the most vulnerable. The third is to draft reports for each community that include incremental adaptation strategies that will help minimize the impacts of rising seas.

Nixon said the effects of sea level rise have been felt in all the participating communities. Officials from the various towns, and many lobstermen who fish in the bay and rely on waterfront infrastructure for their livelihoods, have expressed support for the study.

“The vast majority are pretty happy about this because they see the impacts coming down the line,” Nixon said.

He said officials hope to complete the study and the resulting reports by early next winter.