The Scarborough Marsh on Monday. $1.4 million is planned to restore the marsh, including improving public access. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

SCARBOROUGH — Maine’s largest saltmarsh is facing existential threats on almost every front, yet even in its degraded state, Scarborough Marsh was still able to protect residents from the worst of the coastal devastation doled out by back-to-back-to-back winter storms and provide refuge for a rare marsh-nesting sparrow.

This 3,200-acre marsh – which is under attack from invasive phragmites (common reeds), increased stormwater runoff and rising sea levels – was where federal officials came Monday to announce $123 million in grant funding for coastal habitat restoration to bolster community resilience to climate change, including $1.4 million for Scarborough Marsh.

“Instead of just documenting these changes and lamenting the marsh’s degradation, today, with this grant, we’re in a position to start restoring it,” said Steve Pinette, a board member of the Scarborough Land Trust, one of the groups that will help enact the grant. “Not to pristine conditions, maybe, but to a healthier marsh so it can withstand the pressures of climate change.”

In all, Maine will receive $10.6 million in federal grants to fund the following work:

$4.5 million to replace aging, undersized culverts to improve tidal flow and fish passage in Brunswick and Perry.

$2.9 million to build a new bridge and restore and conserve 18 acres of vulnerable coastal marsh in Wells.


• $1.4 million to plan for the restoration of Scarborough Marsh, including improving public access.

• $1.8 million in research and planning funds for the statewide coastal management program and Wells Reserve at Laudholm.

Maine is now on the front lines of the changes that climate scientists have warned the public about, said Hannah Pingree, director of Gov. Janet Mills’ Office of Policy, Innovation and the Future and co-chair of the Maine Climate Council. In the last year, Maine has experienced six declared federal disasters, more than any year in Maine’s history, she said.

“Mainers across our state, from Old Orchard Beach to Farmington to Eastport, are still working to recover,” Pingree told the crowd of 75 people gathered at the Eastern Parkway trailhead for the announcement. “Confronting the decisions and the path forward and finding solutions is both daunting but also essential to our future.”

Maine isn’t alone in facing unprecedented climate-connected damages, said Arati Prabhakar, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. The U.S. recorded 28 climate-fueled disasters that each caused more than a billion in damages in the last year, the most ever in a single year.

Visitors walk along the Eastern Trail through Scarborough Marsh, where it was announced that $123 million in coastal habitat restoration funds, including $10.6 million for three Maine projects, will be used to restore degraded areas, improve public access and allow for inland migration of Scarborough Marsh, among other things, on Monday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

But the devastation has been met with unprecedented investment in resiliency projects like the ones announced Monday, and commitments to meet the clean energy goals that will curb the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for the changing climate, Prabhakar said. This should give us hope and courage to do the significant work that still lies ahead.


“For way too long, it just seemed like it was way too easy to feel helpless about the climate crisis and to succumb to that,” said Prabhakar. “But now we’re starting to take action at a scale that the climate is actually going to notice. It’s going to change climate outcomes, change how these climate events unfold for communities around the country.”

President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act have funded about $50 billion in climate projects.

The projects aim to increase community resilience to climate change and extreme weather events through habitat restoration, planning, conservation and research. The restoration and conservation of ecologically significant ecosystems, such as wetlands, will help reduce the impacts of coastal hazards such as flooding and climate change to property and infrastructure.

Federal officials claimed the grants will also provide economic benefits to coastal communities – in Maine, Prabhakar noted how important marshes are to the state’s fishing and tourism industries – but provided no details to back up the claim that these projects would help the economy and create new jobs.

All state-funded projects are now required by law to factor future sea level rise into infrastructure design standards – 1.5 feet by 2050 and 4 feet by 2100, according to the Maine Climate Council. And a few, like a $33.5 million bridge project in Woolwich, also are easing tidal restrictions to promote flood prevention and ease the impact of sea level rise and storm surge.

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