M. Challenges and opportunities for municipal resilience in Maine

Afternoon Session – 1:30PM-4:00PM
Kennebec/Penobscot Room (1st floor)

Session Co-Chairs

Embedding sustainability into practice involves actions at all scales of government, from international treaties to local regulations. Municipalities, in particular, are a governance space in which policies and programs that promote social, economic and environmental well-being are debated and adapted. Similarly, it is increasingly recognized that municipalities are on the frontline of responding to challenges like climate change, COVID-19, affordable housing, and other stressors. In this session, we explore the ways in which municipal governments are facing big challenges and working to promote resilient, sustainable communities. In particular, this session examines the emerging field of climate migration and how municipalities in Maine and the Northeast are responding.

Session Overview

Session Abstracts

Presenters are indicated in bold font.

Assessing the Carrying Capacity of the Blue Hill Peninsula

Hans Carlson1, Rachel Bouvier2
1. Blue Hill Heritage Trust, Hancock County Planning Commission
2. rbouvier consulting, University of Southern Maine

The Blue Hill peninsula (consisting of the towns of Blue Hill, Brooklin, Brooksville, Castine, Deer Isle-Stonington, Penobscot, Sedgwick, and Surry) experienced rapid in-migration in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. While much of that migration wave may have been temporary, it nonetheless generated questions about the region’s capacity to maintain its rural character in the face of anticipated climate-related migration. Blue Hill Heritage Trust joined forces with rbouvier consulting to assess the environmental, economic, and social carrying capacity of the peninsula, identify potential stressors, and develop a plan. The report already has generated much interest on the peninsula and beyond. Hans and Rachel will share their methodology, findings, and thoughts on the future.

Exploring climate migration in coastal Maine and New Hampshire

A pdf of this presentation is available. Please contact Vanessa Levesque with any questions.

Vanessa Levesque1, Dave Reidmiller2, Julia Peterson3
1. University of Southern Maine
2. Gulf of Maine Research Institute
3. NH Sea Grant and UNH Cooperative Extension

This presentation focuses on the NOAA-funded project, A Northeast Safe and Thriving for All (NEST), which aims to better understand drivers and effects of climate migration within the Northeast, and to develop a network of networks to co-create research and planning processes to support helpful adaptation measures. Coastal Maine and New Hampshire is a subregion within NEST, and in this talk, we provide an update of our initial work and proposed plans for the future. Project goals include: (1) Elevate the concept of climate migration onto the broader public agenda in the region, (2) Develop a systems understanding of climate-related migration; and (3) develop a stronger and more inclusive network of partners interested in municipal-, state-, and regional-level adaptation to climate migration. Through joint researcher-practitioner meetings we have been exploring each of these topics. We are surfacing the complexity of issues that induce migration, and identifying the landscape of organizations not currently part of climate adaptation discussions that may have an interest in climate migration impacts. A joint ME(CCAP) and NH(CAW) meeting is planned for March 2023 with both existing and new member organizations in order to delve into these issues. In this presentation, we will share initial results to each of our three research goals, discuss plans for moving forward, and invite workshop attendee perspectives on how to most effectively advance the conversation around climate-related migration in the region.

Afternoon Break

Migration Histories and Current Trends for Maine in the Context of the Northeast

A pdf of this presentation is available. Please contact Rachel Renders with any questions.

Rachel Renders (student), Lauren Oertel (student)
Regional Planning, Cornell University

As climate impacts intensify across the United States, scholars and policymakers increasingly anticipate in-migration into the Northeast due to the perception and reality that this region has more water, more undeveloped land, and cooler temperatures. How ready is the region for in-migration given existing housing and infrastructure needs, the state of public and nonprofit institutional support systems, and societal openness to people from “away”? We respond to these questions by sharing early findings from the NOAA-funded planning project, A Northeast Safe and Thriving for All (NEST), which aims to help NOAA assess if it should fund a regional partnership on climate migration in the Northeast. We will highlight how communities in Maine and the Northeast have responded to migrants in the past. Examples include the Great Migration of French Canadians to Maine, Great Migration of African Americans to New York, deindustrialization and depopulation across Maine and the Rustbelt, refugee resettlement in Lewiston and Buffalo, and COVID-19 migration. Drawing on literature reviews and interviews with key stakeholders, we reflect on what historic and ongoing struggles to care for existing and new residents means for future in-migration into the Northeast. We also show how most climate, economic, and housing policies in Maine (as in the rest of the Northeast) currently do not anticipate these challenges. We close by discussing examples of Maine communities that are working to encourage economic growth, address housing unaffordability, and attract future climate movers, and what that suggests for future policy development.

Rising to the challenge: Learning about community resilience from municipal actions in Maine

A pdf of this presentation is available. Please contact Kathleen Bell with any questions.

Kathleen Bell1, Eileen Johnson2, Vanessa R. Levesque3
1. School of Economics, University of Maine
2. Environmental Studies Program, Bowdoin College
3. University of Southern Maine

Who is demonstrating municipal resilience capacity and what can we learn from their actions? What enables some but not other municipalities to develop the needed adaptive capacities to prepare for and respond to change is poorly understood. In this research, we focus on learning about Maine’s municipal resilience capacities from community participation in state-funded municipal grant programs and provision of digital services during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the influx of funding available to communities and investments in broadband infrastructure, grant and digital services competencies enhance municipal strategies for adapting to change, responding to challenges, and leveraging opportunities. We integrated primary data collected via interviews with municipal officials with secondary data describing municipal actions, competencies, and characteristics. We analyzed these data using qualitative and quantitative approaches to document patterns in municipal resilience behaviors, better understand potential catalysts and deterrents of such behaviors, and assess inequities in outcomes and associated adaptive capacities. Overall, we observed greater levels of municipal grant and digital services activity in communities with more representative forms of government and larger community populations. Analyses of interview data contextualized these findings, pointing to the importance of staffing, resources, and partnership networks as well as revealing inequities and technological and cultural barriers. Scrutiny of expected and unexpected resilience actions offered additional insights about municipal resilience capacities and informed stories of Maine municipalities, big and small, urban and rural, coastal and inland, rising to sustainability challenges. Collectively, our work and findings offer suggestions for further strengthening community resilience in Maine and beyond.