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How Do We Regain the Island’s Resilience?

From the Town of Stonington, Maine Blog

Jan 10th, 2023

Posted by: Linda Nelson, Economic & Community Development Director

In late spring of 2022, the Town of Stonington took action to address and communicate with its community about some of the major challenges it is currently facing – sea level rise, federal marine regulations, and demographic changes – by committing funds to conduct an economic impact analysis and create an economic resilience plan to support local, year-round opportunities.

Town Manager Kathleen Billings looked at the potential economic impact of what was then a 10-year whale take reduction agreement on the Town’s $55 million-plus average annual industry, as well as the Town’s study of sea level rise and other climate change projections and in addition to demographic changes spurred by the pandemic, and saw a quickly narrowing window in which the Town needed to focus on responding to these impacts. The Town contracted with Camoin Associates’ and its founding partner Jim Damicis, who had previously conducted the housing study for Island Workforce Housing. The study and plan are now in their final phases and will be ready for public workshops in late January - early February.

“Resilience” is a term that has seen increasing use since the global Covid pandemic caused a monumental number of deaths and other social and economic chaos. What is “resilience,” why should we care about it, and what actions can the public sector take to promote it?

Resilience is the capacity and ability to withstand, adapt to, or bounce back from difficulties, crises, emergencies. It is, in short, toughness: a toughness characterized in communities by preparedness and the public will to use community assets and resources to help stand against adversity.

The island has demonstrated tremendous resilience throughout its history.

When it became clear to the original white settlers that the acidic soil and rocky terrain made their original industry of farming a bust, the community took to the sea as shipbuilders, seafarers, and fishermen. When its unique and beautiful granite offered a new opportunity and there was not enough labor to take advantage of this resource, the town actively sought and welcomed the immigration of workers from Italy, Ireland, Finland and other countries, creating a bustling population of nearly 4,000 residents of large, multi-family, downtown boarding and rooming houses, hotels, and private homes and building an historic bridge, securing its future in a transportation economy now dominated by the automobile. When steel and concrete overtook granite, the community turned again to the sea. Islanders continued to captain boats around the world, fished for and harvested multiple species throughout the year, and welcomed rusticators, doing whatever was needed to survive.

Now we together face new challenges that threaten our year round security. Many of our historic ocean species have been depleted. New regulations that could severely restrict access to others are on an accelerated path for implementation. Unmanaged property use and demographic shifts have created a perfect storm of labor and housing shortages that jeopardize our schools, health care, service economy, and year round viability. And sea level rise and more severe storms threaten our transportation and downtown infrastructures, including drinking water.

To be able to withstand, recover from, and/or adapt to these changes, our economic resilience plan must include strategies and actions that are forward looking, action oriented, and based on our community strengths and values, recognizing that our local economy, community, and environment are all part of one ecosystem that functions within larger markets.

The most recent plan draft reviewed with residents during meetings the first week of December promotes diversification of economic activity and opportunity within and alongside of the maritime culture that is our heritage, as well as entrepreneurship, so that individuals have access to resources and support for creating innovative new businesses and jobs. It identifies the need for proactive development around the ocean (“blue”) economy; regulation and planning to create sustainable visitation, recreation, and cultural heritage tourism; restoring critical year round services such as health care and housing; construction/trades; and small business and workforce development.

What can you do? As citizens, business owners, workers and families we appreciate your participation in and support for this planning effort and the resulting strategies and actions that will be proposed. We hope you will watch for and accept invitations to workshop the final plan draft early in the new year.

Please be in touch. The Town is here to help. Email with questions.

The SEDC was founded in 2004 as a recommendation of the Town’s Comprehensive Plan and meets monthly to support and enhance Stonington's economy. The committee supports all the Town's businesses, including but not limited to fisheries and shore side support; arts and culture; tourism; construction; retail; and agriculture. Its goal is to develop, through local efforts, a more vibrant and sustainable year-round economy for all, supporting businesses and workers as industries transition in the face of climate change, regulations, market forces, etc.

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