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Commission to establish Maine’s first long-term infrastructure resilience plan

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Commission to establish Maine’s first long-term infrastructure resilience plan

May 21, 2024 | 12:25 pm ET
By Emma Davis
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Commission to establish Maine’s first long-term infrastructure resilience plan
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On Dec. 21, 2023, Gov. Janet Mills took a tour of the damage caused by the flooding of the Kennebec River in Skowhegan after a devastating wind and rain storm. (via Office of Gov. Janet Mills)

Gov. Janet Mills signed an executive order on Tuesday to establish a commission to identify short-term priorities for infrastructure rebuilding following consecutive storms this winter as well as to create the first long-term infrastructure resiliency plan for the state. 

The Infrastructure Rebuilding and Resilience Commission will submit an interim report to the governor and Legislature on November 15 and a final report no later than May 15, 2025, evaluating Maine’s response to recent storms and recommending policy changes, building on the recommendations from the Maine Climate Council

“We must ask the hard questions about what we can, and must, do to strengthen our ability to withstand storms that are increasingly more severe and dangerous and that pose a real threat to our infrastructure, our people, and our economy,” Mills said on Tuesday. “The time is now for these immediate steps and this commission will give us the foundation to do just that so we can protect the Maine we know, love and cherish for our children and grandchildren.”

In addition to assessing recovery resources, such as available funding and public-private partnerships, the commission will have preemptive responsibilities. It will be tasked to prepare a plan to boost the state’s ability to bounce back from future devastating weather events through improvements to state and local planning, permitting, engineering and financing.

The 21-member commission will be composed of the heads of several state agencies, such as the Department of Environmental Protection and Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Membership will also include climate science and insurance experts, among others, as well as representatives from industries and municipalities specifically impacted by the storms. 

The governor also appointed two co-chairs, Linda Nelson of Deer Isle, the Director of Economic and Community Development for the Town of Stonington, and Dan Tishman of Port Clyde, a Principal and Chairman of Tishman Realty & Construction, who will set the group’s agenda. These co-chairs and the members will not be compensated for their work. 

The forward-looking commission adds to monetary investments the state has made to aid current rebuilding efforts. 

The storms in December and January caused an estimated $90 million in public infrastructure damage, as well as millions of dollars in damage to private properties. Many people are still in the process of rebuilding, efforts compounded by the late-season nor’easter that swept the coast in April and caused more than $3.5 million in damage. 

President Joe Biden issued major disaster declarations in response to the winter storms at the request of Mills, who also called for another such declaration for the nor’easter on May 2 — marking the eighth disaster declaration she’s requested over the past two years.

This legislative session, lawmakers also included $60 million for disaster relief in the supplemental budget, though the governor had initially asked for the relief to be funded outside the budget through emergency legislation. Part of this funding — $10 million — is going toward a Business Recovery and Resilience Fund, which the Department of Economic and Community Development started accepting applications for earlier this month.

Also earlier in May, the Maine Department of Transportation opened applications for grants administered through the Maine Infrastructure Adaptation Fund for municipalities and tribal governments to improve storm, drinking and waste water infrastructure from flooding, rising sea levels and extreme weather. The governor launched this initiative in 2021. 

Editor’s Note: This story was updated to include comment from the governor.