GOULDSBORO — On June 9, a short, unusually intense rainstorm tore up a key section of road in one of the town’s five villages. In Birch Harbor, the torrential rains dislodged two 48-inch-round culverts, caused the asphalt to buckle and mangled guardrails along a section of Route 186. The destruction cut off traffic for over two weeks on the state highway linking Gouldsboro and Winter Harbor while the Maine Department of Transportation and other state agencies quickly marshaled crew and heavy equipment to make passable the section where a stream meets the sea.
Likened to a “Texas flash flood,” the June 9 storm also wrought heavy damage in Acadia National Park’s 45-mile carriage road system in which 10 miles were closed. In Winter Harbor, a portion of the Grindstone Neck Golf Course’s sixth hole gave way, sliding hundreds of yards down a slope onto the Beach Road and nearly to the shore.
Acadia officials called the rainstorm “one of the most exceptional weather events in the park’s history.” Some local and seasonal residents saw it as a freak event. For experts and longtime observers, though, the sudden June 9 downpour and destructive flooding further confirmed the more frequent storm surges and runoff from intense storms as a result of a warming planet. Early this year, a year-long project was conceived to study what action the town of Gouldsboro can take to better prepare for such extreme weather and protect shoreline. Another aim is to inventory and conserve public shorefront access in this predominantly commercial fishing community where waterfront properties have been changing hands much more frequently in recent years.
In late August, Gouldsboro was awarded $29,623 in state and federal funds from the Maine Department of Marine Resources and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Maine Coastal program to carry out the project led by Education Research Director Emeritus Bill Zoellick and Gouldsboro Shellfish Warden Mike Pinkham. The two have collaborated on other projects such as the town’s Shellfish Resilience Laboratory in Bunkers Harbor. In recent days, Pinkham was preparing to transfer juvenile clams, which have been growing this summer in trays floating in a former lobster pound, to overwinter in saltwater tanks in the newly completed lab on Bunkers Cove eastern shore.
Now, having applied for and secured $29,623 on Gouldsboro’s behalf, Zoellick and Pinkham seek to safeguard Gouldsboro’s shoreline and cluster of islands from further erosion and preserve public access to the town’s 55-mile coastline whose physical characteristics vary widely from cobble and sand beaches to salt marshes and rocky cliffs. As part of the project, running from Sept. 8 to Dec. 30 of 2022, the grant’s authors will act as facilitators and draw up a final report whose findings and recommendations they say could prove a significant resource for other coastal Maine towns.
“This project will enable Gouldsboro to take actions to sustain existing shore access agreements,” the grant reads. “It will also create a plan for coastal infrastructure investments over the next 20 to 30 years that will reduce vulnerability to sea-level rise, storm surges and runoff from intense storms.”
The scientific data supporting the grant, Zoellick says, is drawn from different sources such as the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose latest report warns the world’s coastal area “will see continued sea level rise throughout the 21st century, contributing to more frequent and severe coastal flooding in low-lying areas and coastal erosion. Extreme sea level events that previously occurred once in 100 years could happen every year by the end of this century.”
In addition, the Maine Climate Council’s four-year action plan, “Maine Won’t Wait,” calls for coastal Maine communities to plan for 3 feet of sea level rise by 2050 and 8.8 feet by 2100.
To launch their twofold project, Zoellick and Pinkham seek to partner with the community and inventory what erosion and other significant changes already have occurred at coastal properties and enterprises in town. “We are planning to involve people in telling us what they have seen,” Zoellick stressed. “I think getting people really involved [and saying] what they have noticed in their backyards will fill out the picture.”
The aim is to create a Geographic Information System (GIS) database and maps of existing conditions, water resources such as streams and wetlands and marshes as well as critical town infrastructure including boat launches, docks and wharves. The GIS maps would be overlaid with projected sea-level rise, storm surges, highest astronomical tides and other impacts.
Assisting in the data collection and analysis will be Gouldsboro Superintendent of Infrastructure Jim McLean and Portland-based FB Environmental. The consulting firm specializes in environmental assessment, mapping and planning. Its project scientist and hydrologist will help identify vulnerable places and propose preventive measures.
In a parallel initiative, Pinkham will lead a team to pinpoint and catalog Gouldsboro’s current public access points to the sea. They also will query shorefront property owners about creating or sustaining public access. Public meetings will be held to better inform people about relevant Maine laws such as the fact a “property boundary, described as extending to or along ‘the shore’ of a tidal area, extends only to the high-water mark.”
In the grant application, Zoellick and Pinkham say a final report will be issued summarizing the distribution and status of shore access, “where we have initiated efforts to preserve access and recommended steps for building on work started in this project.”