No neighborhood in Portland is as vulnerable to environmental hazards - exacerbated by climate change - than Bayside.
In response to the increasing anxiety that bigger storms, king tides and nuisance flooding bring to the area, the city of Portland has launched a new initiative that aims to discuss and eventually exercise strategies to make the Bayside Neighborhood more resilient to climate change.
It’s called “Bayside Adapts,” and it aims to bring scientists, engineers, sustainability experts, city officials and community members together, to explore ways that the neighborhood can face, what many consider to be, a very urgent issue.
Bounded by Forest Avenue, I-295, Congress Street, and Franklin Street, the Bayside neighborhood features many vital city services and housing for both young and old. Immigrant families and native Mainers call this neighborhood home, alongside a mix of old and new developments. Students live in Bayside, inside a large dormitory complex. Avesta Housing, an integral developer of affordable housing in the city, sits on the outskirts of this neighborhood. Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and other popular shopping marts are located within the basin. Scenic walking, running and biking trails snake through Bayside and connect to the Eastern Prom and Back Cove trails. There’s also a lot of unused, industrial space in Bayside ripe for growth and new development projects.
But it’s also the lowest point of the city. According to Troy Moon, the City’s Sustainability Director, when one stands on the Maine State Pier, they’re still 4 feet higher than many parts of Bayside. When astronomic high tides, storm surges, and rising sea levels affect the city, Bayside is oftentimes the hardest hit.
“Rising sea levels and increasingly powerful storms are a bad combination and Bayside’s at the nexus of where the problem is,” said Moon.
Readers might remember the historic storm that washed over Portland in September of last year; vehicles were damaged and flooded, business was disrupted and public works crews blocked the streets for several hours trying to restore order.
So when city officials say that there’s much at stake when it comes to making Bayside a resilient neighborhood, they mean it. What they learn from Bayside, could help other extreme-weather affected areas like the Old Port and Stroudwater.
“Bayside is extremely important to Portland economically,” said Bill Needelman, the city’s Waterfront Coordinator. We want to make sure that opportunity is not put at risk due to water.”
A big focus for the planning group is making sure they have accurate and updated data on both the local infrastructure and national and state weather trends. According to Dr. Jack Kartez, from the New England Environmental Finance Center at the Muskie School, the go-to engineering source for rain data is at least 50-years old. He said data gap analysis is integral to Phase 1 of Bayside Adapts.
“We can’t plan for the future by looking backward [at old weather trends],” said Dr. Kartez. “This is a big challenge across the country.”
The Bayside Adapts group has hired a construction engineering firm to assess the gray and green infrastructure of the neighborhood, some of which is over 100 years old.
Underneath the I-295 highway are many pipes; some go to the sewage treatment plant, some empty into Backcove. Any water that falls within the sewer shed of that area gets collected by one of those sets of pipes. If there’s an unusually high tide, the outlet for the pipes may be underwater. Then the water that collects there needs to build up enough gravitational force to push its way out. That’s why Bayside floods, in order for the water to make its way somewhere, until the tide goes back out. The worst case scenario in that situation is an overcharged sewer pipe, that combines its contents with storm water and then empties into the bay and the streets.
“Right now the number one water pollution control issue is storm water,” said Dr. Kartez. “It’s intimately connected with the waste-water.”
Dr. Kartez will serve as a consultant to the city and project manager. He has over 40 years of experience dealing with hazards like floods, wildfires, landslides, earthquakes etc.
Another big component of the new Bayside Adapts exercise is community engagement. The city plans on hosting multiple public forums, so they can hear potential coping strategies from informed citizens. During their first event, at Mayo Street Arts on December 14th, the planning members will formally announce a Resilient Bayside Design Competition, thanks to a $10,000 grant (secured by Councilor Jon Hinck) from the National League of Cities. They will invite the public to design and submit their visions of what a resilient Bayside might look like. The winners will receive a monetary prize.
“We don’t expect to build from the results, but they’ll inform us,” said Needelman.
But first, according to Needelman, the members of Bayside Adapts need to work with the community to develop a common language around this issue.
“With better data understanding, a common language and set of goals for change, we’ll be able to talk about the options for change,” said Needelman.
Before any discussion of adaptation strategies take place, planners need to answer questions like: What does resilient weather architecture even look like? How do we talk about this issue? How exactly will an increase of flooding over the years hinder the lives of those that live and work in Bayside?
Needelman said that the biggest challenge in answering these questions is addressing where Bayside (and other Portland neighborhoods affected by water) falls on the risk continuum spectrum. Meaning, should planners focus their efforts on trying to prevent a Sandy Hurricane like event? Or should they decide on gradual changes that allow Bayside residents to adapt to more water, while not necessarily shielding them from Sandy-like storms?
“Do we go with the heroic engineering gesture that would ‘fix’ the problem,” asked Needelman rhetorically. “Or do we allow the landscape to evolve and adapt accordingly? Where’ the middle ground? That's what we'll tease out.”
Have you got a great idea on how Bayside can brace for a wetter world? Let your voice be heard and join the Bayside Adapts' first public forum at Mayo Street Arts on December 14th. 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm.