2017-04-27 / Front Page

Rising sea levels

Saco’s revised comp plan will address dangers
By Garrick Hoffman
Staff Writer

SACO – Saco’s comprehensive plan committee began drafting goals in anticipation of sea level rise, in addition to policies and strategies to accompany them.

The committee’s overall goal in drafting these is to “protect those properties that are located in the coastal zone and may be subject to sea level rise and storm surge,” according to reading materials.

Additionally, the committee aims to “encourage land owners in the coastal zone to find acceptable alternate methods of armoring properties and work with the city staff to find common ground on future development opportunities in the areas vulnerable to sea level rise,” according to the materials.

The committee also seeks to create and implement a long-term solution to minimize erosion at Camp Ellis, according to materials.

Saco City Planner Bob Hamblen described the Thursday, April 20 meeting as the initiation of “phase two” for the committee, as it marks the first meeting since the committee began conferring in November 2016 wherein members discussed plans and approaches to the city’s overall visions, rather than discussing what already exists in Saco.

The previous meetings – held once a month – served as inventories of the city, highlighting features related to transportation, land use and taxes, for example. The committee has collaborated with the Southern Maine Planning and Development Commission throughout its process, and last month invited Portland Economic Development Director Gregory Mitchell to speak about economic development.

Last year, upon the recommendation of City Administrator Kevin Sutherland, the city concluded it should update its comprehensive plan, or the overall set of goals and aspirations for community development. Saco’s comprehensive plan was last updated in 2011.

Hamblen said the committee wanted to focus on sea level rise not only as part of an update of an existing chapter in Saco’s 2011 comprehensive plan update, but because coastal communities need to be prepared for the future.

“Generally, the scientific community and scientists who are not leaning politically recognize there is indeed climate change going on, there is sea level rise going on, and given the consequences if you don’t start planning, coastal communities are advised to begin planning for it,” he said.

He said Saco’s 2011 plan only scantly mentions sea level rise.

“In Southern Maine Planning and Development Commission’s experience, other coastal communities for the past few years have been adding chapters to their comprehensive plans on sea level rise,” Hamblen said. “In our 2011 plan, there are a couple of paragraphs on sea level rise – that’s it.”

Hamblen pointed to Hurricane Sandy as an example of the destruction that can be inflicted onto coastal communities, and why it’s important to prepare.

“(Sandy was) definitely a large storm that whacked certain communities in New York and New Jersey,” he said. “If the situation had been different, it could have been the coasts of New Hampshire and Maine getting hit that hard. When storms come along nowadays, some of them tend to be larger storms with greater consequences, so let’s as a community start to plan for hopefully what never happens.”

According to the 2011 comprehensive plan, a hundred years of records from the Portland tide gauge indicates rising sea levels, with a 7.5 inch increase since 1912. Another two feet is expected by 2100. Along with this change, storms are becoming more frequent and intense, and damages are increasing.

“When scientists look at data on a specific piece of coast, like at the shoreline of Saco, Maine, there are more local reasons for changes in sea level, other than those at the global level,” the 2011 plan reads. “The important question for the city of Saco is: ‘How should the city respond and adapt?’”

The committee drafted seven policies and 13 strategies and finalized them early the following week. It describes a policy as a specific statement of principle or course of action concerning how to reach a goal, and a strategy as a means of describing how policies will be put into action.

Among its proposed policies,the committee seeks to require a minimum of one foot of freeboard for any property in the beach dune system that is seeking to improve the property by more than 50 percent of the value of the structure based on the most recent local property value determination by the tax assessor. Freeboard, a factor of safety against flood risk, is a measurement of height between a watertight portion of a building or other construction and a space where water is present, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a body of government dedicated to disaster mitigation, preparedness, recovery and other emergency-related matters.

Codes Enforcement Officer Dick Lambert said the proposed policy could be problematic due to needs. He said preliminary flood maps provided last week by the Federal Emergency Management Agency – which he said he believes will become effective – show the 100-year flood base elevation level has increased by four feet, from nine to 13 feet. A 100-year flood is a flood that could happen once every 100 years,andconsequentlyhasa1percent chance of being equaled or exceeded in any single year. This means if a “one-in-100- chance” flood was to occur, water could rise to 13 feet.

If the three feet of freeboard is required, the first floor of a homeowners’ house will be at seven or eight feet above ground level, necessitating a stairway to access it, Lambert said.

“You’re talking about a house that’s going to have to be set seven feet up in the air before you can even get to the first floor if that regulation stays in place,” he said.

Among its proposed strategies would be to develop a protocol program and meet with summer residents of the neighborhood to discuss evacuation matters on a yearly basis; consider a Tax Increment Financing district to support infrastructure improvements impacted in the flood zones of the beach area to armor infrastructure from future storm surge impacts; and amend the zoning ordinance to require new development within the beach system to provide three feet of freeboard. This amendment would effectively extend from Saco’s floodplain area to all of Saco’s beach areas, including Kinney Shores, Bayview, Ferry Beach and Camp Ellis.

The floodplain ordinance, which focuses on Saco’s floodplain area, currently requires new buildings, or reconstruction of existing buildings involving more than 50 percent of their market value, to be elevated three feet above the 100-year flood elevation. This ordinance was established four or five years ago, Hamblen said, and Lambert said the base elevation level was based on flood maps from 2006.

According to a March 2017 summary and recommendations report, in conjunction with Maine Flood Resilience Checklist, the bulk of infrastructure most vulnerable to flood hazards is private property located in Camp Ellis. Ferry Beach is also an area in Saco that has been identified as being among its most vulnerable in regards to sea level rise, according to the report. Saco’s beaches, including Ferry Beach State Park, attract tens of thousands of residents and visitors each year. This emphasizes the significance of implementing creative and proactive approaches for incorporating flood hazard and sea level rise information into future land use, development, and redevelopment decisions to reduce vulnerability, according to the report.

The Maine Flood Resiliency Checklist is a non regulatory assessment tool created by the Maine Coastal Program to assist coastal communities with examining flood risk, evaluating vulnerability to flood hazards and identifying specific actions for enhancing community-wide flood resiliency.

“The city has tried numerous approaches to mitigate erosion at Camp Ellis with limited success,” according to the report. “These have included armor stone, jersey barriers, dune grass, sacrificial sand, retreat, sandbags and geotubes . . . As of 2013, more than 30 properties and several blocks of city streets have been lost to erosion at Camp Ellis.”

In the event of a category 1 or 2 hurricane or a high tide accompanied with a one-foot increase in sea levels, Camp Ellis could be underwater, according to the report. As part of its policies, the comprehensive plan aspires to “develop informational resources in order to inform developers and property owners of sea level and climate change concerns with development in the Camp Ellis neighborhood.”

Next meeting

Saco’s comprehensive plan committee will meet at 5 p.m. Thursday, May 4, at Saco City Hall. It will cover goals, policies and strategies related to transportation.

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