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Rising seas pose threat to York Beach

A state geologist released a report detailing some of the enormous local effects of global-warming-caused sea level rise. A Jan. 27 article by Susan Morse in the York Weekly details some of these impacts and policy implications.

Experts encourage town officials to prepare for changes at beaches

YORK — A predicted 2-foot rise in the sea level over the next 100 years could potentially bring the Short Sands shoreline to Ocean Avenue, with a sand dune reaching behind businesses along that road, according to information released by a state geologist.

Along Long Sands Beach, waters could rise, during the highest annual tide, to a level above existing culverts on the beach, said Peter Slovinsky, senior geologist with the Maine Geological Survey.

Slovinsky made his comments during a Coastal Hazard Resiliency Tools Project meeting held on Tuesday, Jan. 19, at York Village Elementary School. An estimated 20 people attended the meeting, held by the Southern Maine Regional Planning Commission.

“The future trend is sea-level rise will accelerate due to melting glaciers,” Slovinsky said.

The State of Maine adopted the prediction of a 2-foot sea level rise over the next 100 years, said Slovinsky. A 1-foot rise in sea levels can change a 100-year storm into a 10-year storm, he said.

“We know the probabilities are changing,” Slovinsky said. “What we’re trying to do is lay the groundwork for some type of change looking into the future. Let’s think of something that would be a no-regret action a community could plan for, which would have a positive impact on natural and built environments.”

State-suggested local changes include creating a higher standard on elevation levels for new homes; mandating flow-through foundations for new construction in flood zones; constructing new beach culverts; building dunes on Short Sands Beach, and using tidal gates to get water out of flooded areas.

“If we don’t do anything about sea-level rise, the storm damage every year is going to get more costly,” Shoreland Resource Officer Ben McDougal said last week. “We’ve talked about it as a staff, so we’re ready to start dealing with it.”

McDougal and Community Development Director Steve Burns said the first step will likely come as ordinance proposals in November 2011.

One potential ordinance could raise the current building standard of 6.9 feet of elevation above high tide by half a foot. This would mean new construction in some shoreland areas would have to be built further inland to meet the new elevation standards.

Ogunquit has set the elevation level at 11 feet, a measure considered too drastic for York, said McDougal and Burns.

“A rule like that would affect York tremendously,” said McDougal. “We need to talk with people and work incrementally. We want to work with the community and developers on sea-level rise.”

…The areas most affected by sea-level rise, agreed planners, include homes or buildings along the ocean and tidal areas, York Beach Square and Short Sands Beach. The sea-level rise is also anticipated to speed up the loss of marsh in York Harbor and Cape Neddick.

The state does not include York Beach Square in its latest flood plain maps, a factor that bewilders local officials.

Long Sands Beach is stabilized by a seawall, Slovinsky said. Current state law prevents seawalls from being raised, he added.

Public meetings on the local effects of sea level rise and possible mitigating actions will be scheduled sometime in the future, according to officials.

Read the rest of the article online.

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