Residents prioritize climate change concerns, solutions

Vulnerability assessment, resilience plan most pressing
Fri, 12/08/2023 - 8:45am

A teacher, a scientist and a fisherman walk into a room. This may sound like the setup for a joke, but that was the scene during a meeting of the Boothbay Region Climate Action Team (BRCAT) Nov. 30 at the YMCA. The meeting was held for residents of Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor to express their ideas around the challenges of adapting to climate change.  

Around 20 people attended the meeting from a range of ages and career backgrounds including scientists from Bigelow Laboratory and the Department of Marine Resources, a renewable energy professional, tradesmen and the District 48 representative.  

“I think the greatest strength is that we're starting to come together and finding a process to prioritize," said Shri Verrill of Sunrise Ecologic, who serves as the project service provider. “And when we identify a next step, we can focus our positive energy there and feel like we're accomplishing something and bring people in because success breeds success.” 

Over the course of the over three-hour workshop, participants broke into groups to discuss the local impacts of climate change. Residents expressed significant concerns about water issues including water availability, water quality, ocean health and sewage. Residents were also concerned about limited access emissions-friendly transportation including bike paths and walkways.  

Mike Mayhew, who ran an energy consulting business in Boothbay Harbor, said his biggest concern is “anti-environment” misinformation around climate change that goes against scientific research and hinders progress that could be made with available technology. Eben Wilson, a lobsterman in East Boothbay, said he was especially concerned about increasing populations overtaxing water resources and the zoning challenges around adapting to climate-related changes.

Boothbay Region Emergency Management Director David Cody, who is also on the Boothbay Harbor planning board, said he came because of how climate change affects storms and emergencies. He said he wants to help the community prepare, including looking toward the future of construction and municipal code. "You can see the rise in tides, and you know there's going to be problems with buildings and things like that. So that's part of making sure that people stay safe,” he said.  

Residents discussed and voted on what they thought the most effective solutions could be. One answer resounded: They wanted a localized resilience plan. “Heads and shoulders above everything else was a unanimous priority for a vulnerability assessment that led to a (climate) action plan being developed and adopted,” Verrill said.  

She said participants from both towns also prioritized creating a climate change education plan for residents and businesses. Other top interests included increasing energy efficiency in school and public buildings, protecting utilities against severe weather, and implementing strategies to increase the use of public transit, biking and walking.  

The meeting is part of efforts from BRCAT to enroll the two towns in the state’s Community Resilience Partnership program. The process involves community involvement and public workshops, and a municipal resolution from selectboards.

Southport residents recently took part, as reported in the Register. Their selectmen signed a resolution committing to participate in the Community Resilience Partnership, “which supports community leadership in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing resiliency to extreme weather and climate change impacts.”  

Verrill said the work could result in $50,000 of grant funding for priority climate-related projects identified by the community, and up to $125,000 for joint applications between towns. According to Verrill, the funds could lead to eligibility for millions of dollars for other projects.  

Verrill said she is working with towns to explore joint applications, but Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor selectmen have not yet had the opportunity to sign a resolution. According to her, some residents have expressed interest in more involvement from selectmen and other town officials who have not been part of the conversation. However, Verrill said the selectboards have supported this process and she thinks they expect to learn from it.  

Ultimately, Verrill said she wants to get as many people involved as possible and said the highlight of the workshop, for her, was working with community members.

“I want to connect with them as a community member, find out what's important, find mutual ground, and move forward together,” she said. “That's what's important to me. (It) has resulted in some beautiful relationships being created and trust. And I think that that's the commodity we need to focus on. That's what's going to allow us to ... plan for a future where people do get their basic needs met.”