FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
1/24/2024
MEDIA CONTACT
Shara Dee, Communications Officer, sdee@southportland.org, (207) 347-4143

 

NEWS RELEASE

South Portland Storm Recovery Planning Underway

City to Hold Storm Damage/Coastal Resiliency Workshop February 13

 

SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine – The City of South Portland is continuing cleanup efforts and initiating a storm recovery planning process after a powerful January 13, 2024 storm with an astronomical high tide caused damage at two of the City’s most popular parks, Bug Light Park and Willard Beach. The City will hold a Storm Damage/Coastal Resiliency workshop on Tuesday, February 13 at 6:00 PM (start time updated 2/1/24) at the South Portland High School Lecture Hall (637 Highland Ave) and invites the public to attend.

City staff will be present at the workshop to hear resident concerns, answer questions, and provide an overview of its resiliency work and storm recovery process. Maine Floodplain Management Program NFIP State Coordinator Sue Baker and representatives from Cumberland County Emergency Management Agency and the Harbor Master’s office will attend the workshop. Officials from Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the Army Corps of Engineers, Climate Council of Maine, and Maine Geological Survey have also been invited to present more information and answer questions. (As of the sending of this release, their attendance is not yet confirmed.)

During the January 13 storm, Bug Light Park, home to Portland Breakwater Lighthouse and the Liberty Ship Memorial, sustained damage to the Greenbelt Pathway. Flooding caused significant breaking and buckling in the asphalt path in the stretch that runs along the water’s edge. Fortunately, the Lighthouse was unharmed. The City closed the park after the storm, and re-opened it last Tuesday once staff completed initial damage assessment and painted the defects in the pavement to caution visitors. 

Willard Beach and the surrounding area experienced major flooding. The storm washed out the majority of the beach dunes and destroyed the iconic fishing shacks on Fisherman’s Point, a symbol of South Portland’s long fishing history, which dates back to the early 1700s. Flooding caused the City to close the streets leading to Willard Beach for a period when the storm was at its peak and reopened them once the water subsided.

Cleanup efforts in the two parks are still underway. The City has also begun a storm recovery planning process. Regarding the Fishing Shacks, staff are conducting research and gathering information about what is possible. Because the Fishing Shacks are in a Shoreland Zone and a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Flood Zone, the City is limited in options it can pursue and must adhere to applicable state and federal standards in any action it takes. However, the City is committed to exploring all available options and will continue to gather information and consult experts over the coming weeks and months. The City expects that this process will take some time, particularly as agencies are also responding to many other Maine communities, some of which were devastated by the storm.

“It is a hard reality that the extreme weather event that caused this hole in our community is not a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon, but a twice-in-one-week occurrence,” said City Manager Scott Morelli and Mayor Misha Pride in a letter to the community following the storm, referencing a powerful January 9-10th storm that caused exterior damage to the Fishing Shacks. A December 2022 storm washed away large sections of dunes on Willard Beach.

A state leader on sustainability issues, the City adopted One Climate Future, South Portland and Portland’s joint plan for climate action, in 2020. Sea level rise, extreme storms, and coastal flooding are all hazards linked to climate change. “Climate change is not in the future. It’s here,” said Sustainability Director Julie Rosenbach. “We’re following a roadmap to make South Portland more climate resilient, and we invite the community to partner with us on this critical work.” Those interested can learn more and sign up for updates at www.oneclimatefuture.org.

The City is currently working with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) to show anticipated impacts of sea level rise and storms on South Portland’s waterfront. GMRI is looking to capture impacts from the recent storms in an effort to ground truth these models. They’re asking community members to share photos and observations from the January storms by creating an account and contributing on their Coastal Flooding web page or by contacting Gayle Bowness (gayle@gmri.org).

The City will provide additional information about the February 13 workshop and updates about its storm recovery planning as the process unfolds. Subscribe to the City’s e-newsletter and follow South Portland on Facebook and Instagram @cityofsouthportand for updates.

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