Many of Greater Portland’s most treasured prehistoric and historic sites sit along the coast and its intersecting rivers and streams—areas at high risk because of rising sea levels. These sites include historic seaside communities, residential neighborhoods, wharves, forts, lighthouses and 2,000 documented shell middens that contain valuable information and prehistoric cultural artifacts. The waterfront in the greater Portland region has been inhabited for thousands of years, and through the development of natural and maritime resource economies, people have dramatically shaped its geography. Infill projects in Portland expanded the peninsula on the north and south to accommodate rail service and industrial uses in the 19th century. In South Portland, Ferry Village’s mud flats were filled during World War II for the construction of massive shipyards.
Greater Portland communities are already experiencing recurrent flooding, erosion and increasingly intense storms—threats that are projected to increase as the Gulf of Maine warms and expands. The continued damage and destruction of local historic landmarks and sites could be detrimental to Greater Portland’s personality and sense of collective history. The loss of archaeological sites would be both academically and culturally devastating. Information about Maine’s prehistory and early colonialism could wash away, and Indigenous communities lose more fragments of their ancestors’ landscapes. If this occurs, Greater Portland will face substantial revenue losses because our regional economy depends so heavily on historic districts, properties, and parks to attract tourism, new residents, and new businesses.
As concerns about climate change mount, historic preservation and the conservation of existing resources are key to developing a strategy of resiliency, risk management and adaptation. Through collaboration and broad public engagement, we will raise awareness of the issue and work together with key partners to develop proactive and sustainable solutions. Landmarks’ goal over the next year is to develop a Climate Change Impact overview report and analysis to explore solutions that mitigate these risks. While climate change cannot be reversed, much can be done to protect our communities, and we look forward to devising creative solutions to mitigate threats and protect endangered landmarks.