A cottage floats in New Harbor on Jan. 11, after it separated from its pilings during a storm a day earlier. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

AUGUSTA — The extreme weather that has battered the state over the last month, causing untold millions in property damage, is serving as a wake-up call for many in Maine who had thought they had more time to prepare for the local impacts of climate change.

But Maine’s desire to rebuild its ravaged communities to survive a changing climate is running headfirst into the communities’ desire to repair and replace the damaged ski resorts, snowmobile trails, downtowns, beaches and fishing ports as soon as possible.

“We’ve got to think about the future,” said Gov. Janet Mills on Tuesday during an emergency meeting of the Maine Climate Council. “It’s not simply about preparing and rebuilding from the damage of the three storms we’ve suffered through, but what do we do about the future?”

The impacted communities want to rebuild damaged infrastructure from buildings to roads to piers as fast as possible. Under the current permit-by-rule system, the fastest rebuild would be a return to pre-storm dimensions and locations, which requires a 14-day wait to allow for state review.

Modifying a damaged structure by raising a pier to accommodate sea level rise, for example, would currently require a longer wait to obtain the necessary permits, making it less likely that a community that needs to get its lobster boats back on the water by April will pursue it.

Melanie Loyzim, of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, called the permitting conundrum the “elephant in the room” at Tuesday’s meeting of the Maine Climate Council, which was called to consider how to make Maine more resilient to climate-fueled extreme weather.


The council needs to think about the long-term impact of extreme weather on Maine, but many of its members – business leaders, scientists, policymakers and political appointees – represent groups that need immediate help recovering from the impacts of those storms.

Loyzim said DEP is struggling to find the right balance between recovery and resiliency. She does not have the staff to issue on-the-spot permits in every impacted community, but if someone rebuilds badly without a permit, the state will eventually hear about it, Loyzim said.

“Please get it right so that if we have to give you a permit after the fact we don’t have to ask you to spend more money to modify it to meet the standards that we didn’t have the chance to talk to you about ahead of time,” Loyzim said.

For example, Vermont communities trying to recover from the July floods that ravaged that state were allowed to remove manmade debris causing streams and rivers to overflow, Loyzim said. Only later did the state learn the communities had illegally removed sediment, too.

Loyzim said DEP is trying to “be more prepared for next time and just to get through this as best we can and the smartest way we can without giving up on all the environmental protections that everybody thought were important up until all these storms hit.”

State lawmakers are considering a bill, L.D. 2030, that was initially proposed to allow people to clear their property after a storm but may be amended to allow for a quicker, more resilient rebuild after a storm. The environment committee is expected to take it up Wednesday.


More than 500 coastal businesses have submitted damage reports and photos to help Maine qualify for the federal disaster relief needed to recover from the Jan. 10 and Jan. 13 storms that wreaked havoc on working waterfronts from Eastport to Kittery.

The state has 30 days, or until mid-February, to apply for a federal disaster declaration. Maine’s last two requests were granted within about two weeks, but Rhode Island had to wait two and a half months for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to approve its last request.

As climate change warms the world’s oceans, causing the volume of the sea to expand and glaciers to melt, the pace of what had been gradually rising oceans is expected to accelerate. The Gulf of Maine is expected to rise 1.5 feet by 2050, and 4 feet by 2100.

Climate change from a human-caused rise in greenhouse gases is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, affecting the water cycle, shifting weather patterns and melting glaciers, all making extreme weather worse, according to the National Weather Service.

“These storms we know were made more violent by the egregious effects of climate change,” Mills said. “The ocean is warming. The sea is rising. The winds are wilder. And perhaps more importantly, we know that more storms like these will follow. We’ve got to act now.”

As she prepares to roll out a supplemental budget proposal, Mills asked the scientists, policymakers and business leaders serving on the Maine Climate Council to suggest how the state can invest in local communities to help build climate resiliency.

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