A large audience was on hand at Kenduskeag Plaza in downtown Bangor as crowds prepared for the Kenduskeag Stream to overflow its banks in 1987. The flood never came, with the swollen Kenduskeag Stream coming within two inches of spilling over the plaza retaining walls and then receding. Credit: Scott Haskell / BDN File

Ten municipalities, the Penobscot Nation and the University of Maine are collaborating to support residents and improve infrastructure in Penobscot County in the face of a changing climate, as part of a new initiative.

With the looming threat of climate change, most parts of Penobscot County are expected to see a longer period of warmer weather, with up to three weeks per year reaching above 100 degrees Fahrenheit by the late century, according to the group’s regional climate vulnerability assessment. People can also expect increased flooding, particularly in downtown Bangor, one of the most flood-prone areas of the region, according to the report.

The regional initiative, Penobscot Climate Action, started in early 2022 and aims to help implement solutions such as to weatherize buildings, develop plans for stormwater management and prepare for flooding, to build climate resilience on a grassroots level.

It is managed by the Bangor Area Comprehensive Transportation System, or BACTS, a nonprofit designated by the federal and Maine state governments to work on transportation planning. The initiative is funded by BACTS, Bangor and Orono.

Penobscot Climate Action is a regional collaboration between Bangor, Brewer, Orono, Indian Island, Veazie, Bradley, Hampden, Hermon, Milford, Old Town, Orrington and the University of Maine.

It is still developing climate plans for the towns, but it aims to release localized plans for participating communities in Penobscot County by 2024.

impacts of extreme weather

“What’s different about this organization is that it is a regional effort and will be more relevant to the people than a state-level mandate,” said Madeline Jensen, a planner for BACTS. “I’m hoping that, through this process, we’ll be building capacity for climate resilience across the region.”

Penobscot Climate Action hopes to identify strategies for municipal climate planning in line with the goals laid out in the state’s four-year climate plan, Maine Won’t Wait, Jensen said.

“Often when people are talking about climate change and climate action, it can feel really disconnected from people’s day to day,” said Olivia Vilá, a climate planner at Massachusetts-based Linnean Solutions, a consulting firm working to develop priorities and strategies for Penobscot Climate Action.

“We’ve been talking to towns and community members to understand what it is that matters to them and to try to identify those links to climate actions,” she said.

The partnership is a voluntary effort, and Penobscot Climate Action “will not force implementation of strategies,” said Sarah Saydun, a climate planner with Linnean Solutions.

The organization recognizes the Penobscot Nation’s sovereignty as a tribal nation and is committed to making the process as useful and inclusive as possible for them, Saydun said.

“We are open to collaborating in whatever capacity makes most sense for all parties involved,” she said.

Residents in the municipalities participating in Penobscot Climate Action can also use a data viewer tool to help identify climate risks in the area.

how mainers can adapt to climate change

For example, it shows that much of Bangor and parts of Brewer, especially the more densely-populated, commercial and residential areas, have the highest heat severity risk in the BACTS region.

It also shows that nearly half of the region’s K-12 schools are located in these areas and likely don’t have air conditioning, according to the data. As a result, those schools might have to look for ways to prepare for hot days.

The data viewer can be a useful tool to help residents and businesses weigh the potential climate hazards in their area and start to think about how to prepare for them, Jensen said.

Penobscot Climate Action will also launch an online survey in early June to get feedback from communities on their priorities for key climate focus areas such as housing, transportation and livelihood.

Mehr Sher is a Report for America corps member. Additional support for this reporting is provided by the Unity Foundation and donations by BDN readers.

Mehr Sher reports on the Maine environment. She is a Report for America corps member. Additional support for her reporting is provided by the Unity Foundation and donations by BDN readers.