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April 30, 2013 | last updated April 30, 2013 2:25 pm

Maine cos. prep for rise in climate change planning

Catalysis Adaptation Partners LLC
Catalysis Adaptation Partners LLC
A study by Portland-based Catalysis Adaptation Partners LLC showed projected damages for the historic section of Groton, Conn., known as Mystic Seaport.

Potential Portland damage

A July 2012 study by the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service estimated the value of real estate in Portland's Back Cove likely to be damaged by storm surges in three different Sea Level Rise scenarios, in 2050:

SLR scenarioAdaptationCostReal estate damage
No SLRNo action$0$356M
Surge barrier / levee$103M / $0$0
Low SLR
(7.9")
No action$0$407M
Surge barrier / levee$103M / $0$0
High SLR
(19.7")
No action$0$447M
Surge barrier / levee$103M / $0$0

Source: University of Southern Maine

When J.T. Lockman discusses software his company uses that determines the cost of mitigating potential damage from sea level rise, he inevitably comes across a small but vocal few who dispute whether global warming is a cause of more frequent coastal storms.

In those cases, Lockman, vice president of Scarborough-based Catalysis Adaptation Partners, employs what he calls "the burglar analogy."

"If you had your home broken into three times, you would call ADT, you might get an alarm, you might buy a gun and put it under your bed," said Lockman. "You would start spending money so that wouldn't happen again."

But that thinking doesn't always extend to preparing for storm damage, which has become more frequent and more severe in recent years, said Lockman.

"Would you say, 'I'm not spending a cent until someone can prove to me why they're robbing my house?'"

Lockman was part of a panel of climate experts and engineering firms hosted by E2Tech in Portland Thursday to discuss what they've done to help prepare parts of the state for rising sea levels and the associated economic and public safety risks. It's a market his company expects will grow in Maine and elsewhere.

In terms of property damage due to rising sea levels, Maine is "relatively better off" than other areas thanks to its smaller population, geographically high coast and underdeveloped beachfront, Lockman said, "but that doesn't mean there aren't serious problems."

Storm surges associated with severe weather often overwhelm municipal infrastructure such as stormwater collection systems and wastewater treatment systems. The resulting structural and environmental damage can be significant.

Ryan Wingard, a project manager with the Portland-based environmental engineering firm Wright-Pierce, said his firm recently worked on three Maine-based sea level rise adaptation projects, a sector of the business that is "definitely an emerging trend in Maine."

For now, Wingard said projects to mitigate for those impacts have not generated a significant amount of work, but his company is increasing its focus on the topic as it folds updated climate change data into its work on stormwater infrastructure and coastal engineering projects.

As a sign of what might be ahead, a legislative committee on Thursday held public hearings on a bill that would restart the Maine Department of Environmental Protection's study of the impact of climate change in the state.

But companies like Lockman's are already finding related work. Catalysis employees have done threat assessments from Route 1 in East Machias to sewage treatment plants in Ogunquit and Portland, as well as Maryland and New York. The company now has projects spanning from Oxford, Md., to the coast of Maine, including some funded by the Maine Department of Transportation and Maine Coastal Program.

Nationwide, there is a glut of potential adaptation work. A 2009 study from the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration estimates that there will be between $448 billion to $944 billion in work on water and wastewater infrastructure alone through 2050.

"That's what should get done, but [that's] probably not going to be accomplished because of that large price tag," said Wingard.

His company's assessment for increasing the capacity of Portland's wastewater treatment system puts the adaptation cost from $125 million to $154 million.

While those improvements carry a hefty price tag, climatologists say the danger of increasingly unpredictable and stormy weather is not going away.

"We all know a 10-year storm is not a 10-year storm anymore," Lockman said.

George Jacobson, professor emeritus of biology, ecology and climate change at the University of Maine, said CO2 levels continue to rise, contributing to higher temperatures around the globe.

In Maine, the state's annual average temperature has been higher every year since 2004, and tied the record high of 49.2 degrees last year. That falls in line with sea surface temperatures that NOAA found to set an all-time high last year, beating all 150 years of record-keeping on ocean temperatures.

"That's why we need to think about adaptation planning," Jacobson said.

Catalysis has the COAST tool to assess economic risk and estimate costs on adaptations strategies for businesses, municipalities and utility districts looking to reduce their exposure to threats posed by rising sea levels. Earlier this year, that software, developed by a team at the University of Southern Maine led by Professor Sam Merrill in coordination with Maine-based GIS developer Blue Marble Geographics, became available for free through USM's Muskie School for Public Service.

At Thursday's forum, Lockman shared the results of a past project in Groton, Conn., to help showcase the analytic merits of the COAST system. The company was hired to assess the risk to the town's historic Mystic Seaport, a recreated 19th-century seafaring village consisting of more than 60 original historic buildings.

The software overlaid property values with flood threat data to find that, with no action, a 10-year flood event in the year 2070 would cause $8.7 million in damage to the town.

Last summer, the company evaluated potential damage to Portland's Back Cove as a result of three sea level rise scenarios, estimating that real estate damage could amount to between $356 million and $447 million by 2050 with no action.

As for the politics of talking about the economic threats of climate change, Lockman said, Catalysis is not an advocacy organization and will run its assessments based on the client's criteria.

"If a stakeholder group says [they] don't believe the ice is melting, we can run the model that way," Lockman said.

Editor's note: This story was updated to correct information about the development of COAST software.

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