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Maine coastal communities prep for future storms when rebuilding old infrastructure


Let's go to Maine now, where coastal communities are still struggling to recover from last month's back-to-back storms. It is a costly and complicated process. Kaitlyn Budion with Maine Public Radio has this report.

KAITLYN BUDION, BYLINE: Greenhead Lobster is a well-established business in Stonington. With three docks in town, the company buys lobsters from more than 100 boats in the summer months, before sorting and processing the lobsters for sale. Today, it's relatively quiet - still the offseason. But two boats stop by one of Greenhead's docks to refuel and drop off their lobster hulls. It's high tide, which means the water is higher and close to shore. But with little wind, it's calm and flat, what owner Hugh Reynolds calls an ice cream day. It's almost hard to picture the devastating January storms that flooded these same docks, sweeping crates out into the water and inundating electrical systems on shore.

HUGH REYNOLDS: I mean, you're just sitting there. You're, like, oh, that's pretty high tide. That's really high tide.

BUDION: Reynolds wasn't at the office during the first storm, taking a rare sick day. But that just meant he was getting a constant stream of texts and photos as the storm escalated.

REYNOLDS: Half hour later, like, we're flooded - like, unimaginable. Things are underwater. I mean, it just happened so quickly, you know?

BUDION: It's a similar story along all of Maine's coast. And unlike the fishing industries in other states, Maine's is primarily small family businesses, many that have existed for generations. And now they're faced with trying to restore the historic infrastructure. Ben Martens of the Maine Coast Fishermen's Association estimates that more than half of Maine's working waterfront was damaged in the storms.

BEN MARTENS: There are things that will not ever be coming back because of these storms, and how do we remember them - how to reflect on that? And how do we not lose that important part of our heritage?

BUDION: Martens says many structures were built before modern zoning and permitting were in place. And in some cases, it's not even clear who owns the land. Buildings were grandfathered in to the regulations. Families and businesses are trying to rebuild, but because the damage is so unprecedented, local officials are struggling to find answers about whether some structures can even be replaced.

MARTENS: Even right now, I've got fishermen up and down the coast who are trying to rebuild, and they're like, well, can we build it taller? It's like, you are not allowed to do that right now.

BUDION: At Greenhead Lobster, although the company is functional for the offseason, Reynolds estimates he has three to four months before lobster season starts in earnest. And it will cost at least a quarter of a million dollars to be ready by then, not even trying to think of longer-term repairs.

REYNOLDS: I'm a little bit shortsighted here, but I don't know what to do - what else to do about it.

BUDION: As for Maine's working waterfront as a whole, Martens says he expects repairs to cost at least tens of millions. Although state and federal legislators have voiced support, the timeline for getting funding to businesses isn't clear and could take months.

MARTENS: I had a fisherman who called and was asking - was like, should I build this back as quickly and cheaply as possible, with the thought of just making a disposable piece of working waterfront to tear down for when there are resources and opportunities to build it back stronger? And I was like, well, you could do that. We also might get another storm next week or next month.

BUDION: But with warmer months and a busy fishing season ahead, coastal communities can't wait for answers on zoning or funding or timing. They're already doing what they can to get back up and running.

For NPR News, I'm Kaitlyn Budion. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Kaitlyn Budion