Gouldsboro signed a contract with the Maine Department of Marine Resources in the first week of September 2021, marking the start of a project titled “Planning for Change Along Gouldsboro’s Shore.” The funding is through the Maine Coastal Program and is made possible by a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The agreement provides the town with $29,623 to use in sustaining shore access, reducing vulnerability to damage from sea-level rise and storm events, and engaging the community in planning and action to retain the ecological and economic health of Gouldsboro’s coast. Letitia Baldwin’s article in the Ellsworth American, below, provides an excellent overview of why Gouldsboro applied for the grant and what it will do with the funds.

Here is a bit more information about the three principal goals of the project.

Shore Access

Gouldsboro’s mainland shoreline (not including islands) stretches over slightly more than 55 miles. There are six harbors along this long coastline and one small town property at the top of Prospect Harbor that offers public access to the shore. Clam harvesters, worm diggers, and others depend on informal arrangements with property owners to get to the shore over most of Gouldsboro’s shoreline. Access to essential areas such as Jones Cove is wholly dependent on such handshake agreements.

Over the past five years, Gouldsboro’s shellfish committee has begun active management of the town’s shellfish resources under the leadership of Shellfish Warden Mike Pinkham in response to climate change.  Harvesters have had success in restoring flats through clam seeding and the use of nets for predator protection, but this work requires crews of harvesters to access the flats in spring and fall to put down and retrieve nets and other gear. In doing this work, the Shellfish Committee has become acutely aware that they cannot take shore access for granted. Many property owners who have, for years, provided access to the shore are now in their seventies and eighties. The Committee is concerned that a new generation of shoreland owners may not share the community’s traditional norm of working with the shellfish harvesters and others to find ways to make the shore accessible.

This project will provide Gouldsboro with a detailed understanding of where shore access over private property is essential, who owns those properties, and the options available to the town and property owners for formalizing arrangements to sustain access.

Resource and Infrastructure Vulnerability

Goldsboro’s 55 miles of coast comprises a great variety of habitats, geology, hydrology, and uses. It includes saltmarshes, mudflats, sheltered harbors, and granite coasts with crashing waves. The town recognizes that addressing the recommendations identified in Maine Won’t Wait: A Four-Year Plan for Climate Action will require the use of a variety of investments, technical and communication strategies, and regulatory and non-regulatory approaches.

For example, in its initial exploration of what it means to manage for 3 feet of relative sea-level rise (SLR) by 2050 as recommended in Maine Won’t Wait, Gouldsboro learned that projections by the Maine Geological Survey indicate that 3 feet of SLR will regularly make roads between the Corea Peninsula and the rest of Gouldsboro impassible unless the town invests in elevating and protecting them. The Coastal Risk Explorer, a tool developed by The Nature Conservancy, estimates that 3 feet of SLR will make 58 addresses inaccessible to emergency services at the highest annual tide and that the cost to upgrade the inundated roads will be approximately $650,000.

Another foot or two of SLR makes the problem much worse. According to the Coastal Risk Explorer, 6 feet of SLR will make 1211 addresses inaccessible to emergency services at the highest annual tide. The estimated cost of upgrading roads to address this issue is $2.6 million.

Tools such as the Coastal Risk Explorer help provide an overall picture of the potential problem, but the town needs assistance in putting these projections into context. For example, which culverts will need upgrading to address the inundation threats? How soon will the town need to do it?  Are these places where the town is already planning to make investments?  The numbers are significant, but over 30 years, Gouldsboro’s spending on roads and culverts is also significant.  How can the town integrate climate change into its regular, ongoing planning?

The project will establish the groundwork for making highly local, stepwise decisions about the town’s infrastructure and its saltmarsh, tidal, and subtidal resources that are consistent with the recommendations in Maine Won’t Wait.

Connecting Coastal Resources and Community

Like other Maine coastal communities, Gouldsboro is now experiencing a rapid turnover in property ownership. One of the effects of the COVID pandemic is that people from other places have decided that they want to live in communities like Gouldsboro and have discovered that they can make a living here while working remotely.

There are benefits associated with this demographic change, but it can adversely impact shore access because properties, particularly shorefront properties, are now changing hands more quickly.  Informal shore access arrangements in place for decades will disappear if new owners do not share longstanding community norms that have encouraged such arrangements. 

Increased interest in buying property in Gouldsboro can also increase coastal resource pressure through new property development and uses.

Town leaders take an optimistic view of these changes, believing that new residents will be open to learning how Gouldsboro differs from other places they have lived. In particular, town leaders believe that new residents will want to learn more about the richness of the town’s coastal resources and how these resources make the community what it is.

The proposed project will involve town residents in sharing observations about how shorelines have changed over the past years and about places where they already see flooding and erosion in storm events. They will have opportunities to get out on the mudflats to help collect data about resource abundance. Public meetings, a project website, and posts on the town’s Facebook page will keep residents up-to-date on what the project is doing and learning.  The town’s leaders believe that involving residents in this project’s data collection, planning, and discussions will provide residents, old and new, with opportunities to develop a richer understanding of the connection between Gouldsboro, its coastal resources, and the people who live in the town and use those resources.

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