Friday, October 18, 2013

Teaching police about trans people: Maine departments lack policies but have ready examples

Published in Out In Maine

 It’s easy for police officers to become defensive when asked about the rules governing their interactions with members of the public. That’s exactly the tack John Rogers took. He’s the director of the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, which trains all law-enforcement officers at the local, county, and state levels in Maine, and when contacted by Out In Maine, was adamant that his organization trains officers to interact with transgender individuals exactly as they do with all other people.

“We train people to treat everybody the way they would like to be treated . . . Everybody should be treated equally.” He refused to even consider the idea that there should be any policies or guidelines for handling any individuals differently or ensuring that a group’s concerns be addressed. “It doesn’t matter to us.”

But another statement he made suggested he might, in fact, be in need of sensitivity training, even if he doesn’t know it: “I’m 57 years old and I don’t know if I’ve ever even seen a transgender person.”

That’s exactly the reasoning behind the Boston Police Department’s transgender policy, which took effect in June after years of development, research, and legal review.

“It’s trying to educate officers,” says Javier Pagan, a BPD office who also serves as his department’s liaison with the city’s LGBT communities. While all officers and policies strive to be respectful of individuals and their rights, it’s not safe to assume that everyone knows what respect looks like to certain people.

For example, Pagan says, the BPD has a policy about dealing with prisoners — with rules that apply to all interactions with people in police custody. But that policy also has a subsection about dealing with female prisoners, and another about juvenile prisoners, to ensure that the specific concerns of women and children — who represent a smaller population within the criminal-justice system — are considered and addressed by police.

Along the same lines, the BPD policy on transgender people acknowledges that some Boston officers might have fewer opportunities to interact with this demographic (while others might have many more, depending on where in the city they work).

The policy codifies things like what name to use for a transgender person, if their legal name differs from the one they use in daily life. Similarly, it specifies that officers should use the pronouns that refer to the person’s self-expressed gender identity, and even goes so far as to allow for ambiguity: “If officers are uncertain about which pronouns are appropriate, then officers will respectfully ask the individual.”

These practices are, of course, common sense, and even second nature, within the LGBT and allied communities, but not in law enforcement — yet.

“It’s not easy to change a culture,” says Pagan. As society changes, and as laws change, Pagan notes, it’s important for police practices to keep up. He notes that these practices and policies also protect police officers and agencies against claims of discrimination or prejudice.

Still early for Maine
Most Maine police departments have yet to even look toward making changes to promote transgender sensitivity. As Maine police academy head Rogers made clear, new officers are not taught anything specific about transgender issues and individuals.

The Maine State Police does not have a policy either in force or even in development, according to spokesman Steve McCausland.

The Maine Chiefs of Police Association, which develops model policies often adopted verbatim across the state, has no such policy regarding transgender people, according to Robert Schwartz, the group’s executive director and a former South Portland police chief.

“I would not be surprised if at some point we were to develop a model policy . . . but nothing has brought it to the forefront” to date, Schwartz says.

Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck says that while his agency lacks a written policy along the lines of Boston’s, “The rule has always been, if you refer to yourself as a male or a female, then that’s what we do in response.” He notes that the department does have an LGBT community liaison, Officer Alissa Poisson, and recognizes that “the city of Portland is an incredibly diverse place.”

Ian Grady, a spokesman for EqualityMaine, says the city’s inclusive and sensitive practices are “a great role model for other towns and cities in Maine,” and says the LGBT-rights group hasn’t heard of any problems arising in Maine law enforcement.

Starting in corrections
A more significant concern than on-the-street police encounters with transgender people is raised by Penobscot County Sheriff Glenn Ross, who notes that while officers on patrol may have to question or search transgender people, bigger challenges arise when incarcerating them.

At the Penobscot County Jail, “it’s a policy that is developing.” Transgender inmates are not common there, but they do arrive from time to time. “We involve our medical department early on and appoint appropriate-sex officers to do pat-down searches,” Ross says, noting that it may involve two different officers patting down different areas of an inmate’s body.

“Not all of the rules are clearly defined,” Ross notes. Litigation still occurs, and much has not yet been decided either by policy or in court.

Where to house an inmate is determined in part by the medical staff, who may evaluate a person’s progress through a transition between genders, but also includes considering the gender self-identification of the inmate in question.

Ross’s staff works from a policy developed in Cumberland County, which has been in effect since 2009, according to Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce. Departments as far afield as Chicago, Denver, and San Francisco have used the county’s policy as a starting point for their own work.

Cumberland County’s policy includes an evaluation of an individual’s case by medical and security staff, who determine whether a transgender person will be housed with men or with women.

“We really pay particular attention to how they identify,” Joyce says. “It’s trying to balance the rights of the individual and the rights of the individuals they might be in a pod with.” While at any given time almost all inmates are in some need of mental-health care, Joyce’s policy also dictates transgender inmates’ access to medications and other treatments: The jail will provide those only if the person began those procedures before being incarcerated. If they decide to start a transition after arriving at the jail, the policy is to make the person wait until release to continue.

Joyce says some of his staff were reluctant or unconvinced at first, and needed training before being comfortable dealing with transgender inmates, but he knows it’s an important step. Observing that transgender people are a vulnerable population even before encountering police, he says, “We want to not make things worse.”

He says issues of transgender rights are ”becoming more and more prevalent” — recently Time magazine called him to talk about the situation with incarcerating Chelsea Manning, the male-to-female transgender person who, as US Army Private Bradley Manning, was convicted of releasing classified documents to the public. “You can’t duck it,” he says. So the question becomes, “How can you make it as respectable and responsible as possible and respect security and everybody’s rights?”

Promising learning opportunities
There’s a very good starting point to answering that question, which has been developed right here in Maine, though it’s available to police officers nationwide.

It’s an online training class for law-enforcement officers entitled “Awareness of Transgender Issues,” and it was put together by one of Maine’s top cops: Noel March, the US Marshal for the District of Maine. He’s a former Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office chief deputy and former UMaine-Orono police chief who developed the online course while earning his master of arts degree in peace and reconciliation from UMaine.

“Hate crimes has been at the forefront of my interest for many years,” March says. He’s also a family friend of the Maineses, the state’s — possibly even the country’s — best-known family with a transgender member. They’ve been highlighted in reporting in the Portland Phoenix, the Boston Globe, and elsewhere.

When considering what he could contribute to the law-enforcement community during his studies, he thought about training possibilities. (Like many certified professionals, police officers have to do a certain amount of continuing education to keep their certifications current.) “I found that there was nothing relating to people who identified as transgender as victims, or witnesses, or complainants, or as coworkers,” March says.

In collaboration with Wayne Maines and a Maine-based security-training company led by Paul Plaisted, March put together the 40-minute course, even narrating it himself. “It really educated me,” he admits.

“Many members of the transgender community lack the comfort to interact with law enforcement,” March says, often because of issues not shared by gay, lesbian, or bisexual people. For example, if a driver is stopped for speeding, their driver’s license may show a different name, gender, and appearance than the person behind the wheel exhibits.

March says officers should do their jobs, determining the correct identity of the person in question, but shouldn’t “be so narrow-minded as to think that this person is someone who’s wearing a disguise. This may be a genuine case of someone in a transition.”

The online course covers basics of transgender terminology and etiquette as well as more specific issues of recognizing the potential for transgender people to be targets of violence, and working to protect them. It makes regular reminders of police officers’ sense of justice, equality, fair play, and duty to help people in need or in danger.

And that’s what March sees in his efforts to encourage police to improve their sensitivity to transgender people: “We need to understand the people who we encounter in our role as police officers.” 

Whence from victory? EqualityMaine looks at the next five years

Published in Out In Maine

Having secured marriage equality last year and bade farewell to longtime executive director Betsy Smith in September, the state’s oldest and largest LGBT political advocacy organization is at a point of serious transition. Smith, who had been active with EqualityMaine for more than two decades and led it since 2002, left the organization at a high point in its existence and in her career. The group’s staff and budget grew significantly during that time, and won important legal and legislative battles, including protecting LGBT Mainers from discrimination, establishing domestic-partnership rights, and winning on marriage twice (once in Augusta and the second time statewide), Smith has also left EQME with a five-year strategic plan, a set of projects the organization has already begun to tackle.

After years of primary attention on marriage, EQME staffers spent the months following last November’s victory thinking about the future. They interviewed dozens of people, got 700 responses to an online survey, and conducted multiple focus groups to determine what to accomplish next, says Ali Vander Zanden, the group’s political director and interim executive director. “People understand that we’re not done yet,” she says.

While there’s a lot yet to get going, Vander Zanden says those next steps are “starting to take shape.”

Moving forward, EQME will focus on four key demographics: young people, rural residents, elderly Mainers, and transgender people. The basic goal is clear: “We’re going to take the legal victories that we’ve won, and we’re putting those into people’s daily lives,” she says.

Starting young
A 2011 survey by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) found that “the vast majority of LGBT students in Maine regularly heard homophobic remarks, sexist remarks, and negative remarks about gender expression.” Specifically, 97 percent of students heard other students use the word “gay” negatively; 87 percent heard homophobic remarks (such as “fag” or “dyke”) regularly. The survey has a nine-point margin of error, but even with that caveat, the numbers are startling.

The survey goes on: “3 in 10 were physically harassed (e.g., pushed or shoved) based on their sexual orientation and 1 in 10 was physically assaulted (e.g. punched, kicked or injured
with a weapon) based on the way they expressed their gender.

And a great many students never reported those incidents: 46 percent never told school staff (of those who did, only 44 percent “said that reporting resulted in effective intervention by staff”) and even more — 58 percent — never told a family member.

The survey shows young LGBTQ Mainers are “living their lives in fear,” Vander Zanden says. (It’s worth noting here that while many nationwide polls suggest improving tolerance and understanding for LGBTQ people among young Americans, those polls most often involve people who are 18 and older; many school bullies are younger than that.)

Of course, she notes that not every kid is a perpetrator, but a few is enough — and often bystanders don’t step in to halt the abuse. Vander Zanden also observes that at least some of the kids bullying others are likely to be victims themselves, in other circumstances; they’re just passing along the behavior they’ve received. “Those children don’t know sometimes the harm that they’re doing,” she says.

The target of EQME’s efforts in this area include its longstanding support of school civil-rights teams, where young people can show leadership in a safe environment. There’s also a new element, of working more directly with school employees.

“We have this new anti-bullying law” in Maine, Vander Zanden says, which strengthens protections for students suffering bullying, and requires schools to train staff to prevent it, and actively address it when it happens. So EQME will be training school teachers and staff about LGBTQ bullying specifically, in a way that coordinates with other training sessions on bullying in general. Vander Zanden says the organization wants to ensure that schools have resources and know-how to follow the new law.

Beyond the cities
Organizing support for rural Mainers who identify as LGBTQ is another major initiative, which will build on the statewide marriage-equality victory in 2012.

In that effort, marriage supporters held as many as 250,000 personal conversations with friends, family members, and neighbors about the issues. As we’d all hope, what those conversations showed is that “people want to do the right thing,” Vander Zanden says, especially once they’ve made a personal connection. But also unsurprisingly, “there are a lot of people who have never thought about this from the perspective of an LGBTQ person.”

Vander Zanden, who grew up in Southwest Harbor and started her work with EQME as a rural organizer, acknowledges that the live-and-let-live ethos of New England rural life may lead some people to either ignore or be quiet about their support for LGBTQ neighbors, simply out of respect for their privacy, or a wish not to draw attention to something the LGBTQ individuals themselves may not be highlighting.

But that can still lead to situations where an LGBTQ relationship isn’t publicly acknowledged, such as a conversation at a local store in which a straight ally doesn’t ask about a lesbian friend’s partner in public. Vander Zanden says that can lead to the LGBTQ person feeling unsupported
in the community.

Nevertheless, “we’ve seen that people’s attitudes are changing,” she says, attributing that in part to the personal conversations aspect of the marriage campaign. Another effort, particularly in rural areas, has involved approaching community members and asking them to put their names in newspaper ads as public declarations of support for LGBT rights (and marriage equality in particular). Hundreds, even thousands, of rural Mainers have taken part.

She says the effects are measurable. In 2009, marriage equality lost 73 percent to 27 percent in Aroostook County, for example. In 2012, the citizen’s initiative did better; it still lost, but the margin was better: 66 percent to 33 percent.

Vander Zanden calls that “encouraging supporters to come out as supporters,” and describes it as “just good old community organizing.” The group will expand its push in this direction with a new position just created for rural organizing.

An aging population
Maine is the state with the oldest average age in the nation (42.7 years old, according 2010 Census figures), and LGBTQ people face some common aging issues, as well as a fair number of quandaries straight elders don’t.

They still have to sort out choices about retirement communities, assisted-living facilities, and finding new or additional health-care providers to address changing health conditions. But at every turn, LGBTQ elders have to navigate the coming-out process all over again. One concern Vander Zanden highlights is about home health-care workers who might not be supportive of their patients’ LGBTQ identities. To get the care they need and still feel safe in their own homes, “some people are actually having to choose to go back into the closet,” Vander Zanden says.

Another aspect of helping aging LGBTQ Mainers involves ensuring that health workers are asking the right questions and doing the right screenings — as when dealing with HIV-positive people, who are now living much longer (as long as 30 to 50 years post-diagnosis, with aggressive therapy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

In fact, CDC projects that by 2015 “more than half of all HIV-infected Americans will be over 50 years old.” The organization also notes that 17 percent of new HIV diagnoses are in people 50 and older.

(Also working to address these issues is a Maine chapter of Services and Advocates for GLBT Elders, which was founded earlier this year; see “When I’m Sixty-Four,” by Deirdre Fulton, Summer 2013.)

Still working: transgender rights
Transgender issues remind us all that “we haven’t won everything there is to win,” Vander Zanden says. For example, many insurance plans don’t cover medical services related to people’s self-identification as transgender. Some private employers do carry insurance that offers surgery, hormones, and gender-identity mental-health counseling, but it’s not required by law.

EQME will help people understand what rights transgender people have under Maine law, as well as training trans allies (in connection with Maine Trans Net; see “Trans Explosion” by Lisa Bunker, Fall 2013). “We all need to become better allies,” Vander Zanden says.

In that vein, EqualityMaine will continue to support the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which will at some point come under consideration by the full US Senate, having been approved 15-7 by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions back in July. This proposed law specifically includes protection for trans people as well as gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, from being fired (or not hired in the first place) simply for their gender identity or sexual orientation. And it will fight for LGBTQ interests in Augusta, including fighting a proposal by state Senator David Burns, a Whiting Republican, that would dramatically expand people’s, and companies’, ability to discriminate or otherwise exempt themselves from many state laws, simply by claiming the law violates their freedom to
practice religion.

In the short term, Vander Zanden will lead the organization and the search for its new executive director, expected to be hired in January — just in time for EQME’s 30th anniversary. Even that many decades in, and with as much progress as LGBTQ Mainers have seen, there’s more to do. “We’re still having the conversation about what’s next,” Vander Zanden says.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Press releases: Marginalized mainstream

Published in the Portland Phoenix

Amid a weeks-long deluge of pontification and punditry in newspapers every day and around the clock on dozens of TV channels, who would have thought that the key to the shutdown dilemma would be a five-minute video of procedural business on the floor of the US House of Representatives? Or that it would be posted not by a major media outlet — nor even a minor one — but by an obscure congressman from Maryland, Democrat Chris Van Hollen?
The clip in question, from October 12, along with a three-minute C-SPAN clip of a late-night House Rules Committee meeting on September 30, are crucial to understanding exactly how the Republican majority in the House of Representatives has subverted our democratic process.
The clips show that at the very last minute — between 10:45 pm September 30 and 1:15 am October 1 — the Republicans rigged the rules of the game to prevent ordinary members of the House from making progress on a budget resolution, without which the government will remain closed.
The original rules let any House member decide that a stalemate had been reached when determining how to amend a proposed bill, and allowed that member to force a vote on the bill without any amendments. In other words, it provides a means for a representative to compel his or her colleagues to vote up or down on the main question at hand, with no changes. This is relevant here because the Senate has passed what is being called a “clean” budget resolution, and the House Republicans are demanding it be amended to defund the Affordable Care Act before coming to a vote. The videos show that Republicans changed the rules to prevent any member from forcing a vote without amendments, and restricted that power to arch-conservative majority leader Eric Cantor, a tea partier from Virginia.
This move didn’t come to light through deep reporting or anonymous tipsters leaking information to the media. Instead, Van Hollen posted a video (of his exchange on the House floor illuminating this new rule) to YouTube. As one observer noted, it already has half again as many views as Van Hollen has constituents living in his district.
Until now, the mainstream media have seemed devoted to presenting the shutdown as a bipartisan mess. On September 30, a headline in the Washington Post blared: “In shutdown blame game, Democrats and Republicans united: It’s the other side’s fault.” On October 15 , the perspective remained unchanged: “Senate leaders’ talks on shutdown, debt limit stall as sides await market’s reaction,” read a Post headline.
Observers like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have been pointing out that these are misleading: In fact, of course, the government shutdown was a strategy employed by radical right-wingers who have always wanted to shrink government down so small that Grover Norquist could, as he famously said, “drown it in a bathtub.”
Coverage like Stewart’s and Colbert’s (as well as by alternative media around the nation), and now viral viewing of a few moments of Congressional technicalities, has led the American public to reject the mainstream-media view that everyone is to blame. On October 9, the Post ran a story with this headline: “AP-GfK Poll: Republicans get most blame for shutdown but no one’s a hero.” While there’s still a misdirection at the end, it’s clear that despite mainstream waffling, Americans are finding out what’s really going on.
Now it’s clear the Republicans haven’t taken hostages, but have rigged the rules of the game so a distinct and marginalized minority are in control of the entire legislative mechanism of this country. Will the mainstream media follow the truth, and the course set by its audience, or will the dinosaurs fall ever closer to extinction and irrelevance, for lack of courage to be honest?
Another thing they’re missing While the shutdown’s effects on US Antarctic Program operations and science have made some headlines, there’s an important connection that hasn’t: A great deal of government-funded research in the Antarctic and elsewhere studies the Earth’s changing climate. Huge gaps are about to appear in decades-long data collections, making scientific conclusions vulnerable to political assault. “They don’t have all the data,” climate-change-denier politicians will cry, ignoring that they themselves ensured that flaw by preventing spending on research. The aftereffects of this shutdown will echo for decades in scientific circles. Of course, this won’t bug people who think Jesus hung out with dinosaurs. But it should scare hell out of the rest of us. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

How wet will we get? Portland plans for action in the face of rising seas and bigger storms

Published in the Portland Phoenix

By the turn of the next century, most of the areas of Portland that were filled in during the 1800s to create more land downtown will be either underwater or regularly flooded during storms. We need to figure out what to do about that.
It doesn’t matter whether you think humans are or aren’t causing climate change. It doesn’t even matter if you are unsure whether climate change is happening at all. What counts is this: “We’re all going to get wet.”
That’s the frank assessment from Sam Merrill, who until last week was a professor at the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service. The same conclusion is clear from a wide range of reports over many years, including the latest update from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released on Monday, which predicts sea levels will rise somewhere between 10 and 32 inches by 2100. And don’t forget about storm surges.
Merrill has worked for several years in partnership with private companies and federal research support, learning how best to help people adapt to the changing environment they find themselves in. That included a preliminary look at how much flooding Portland’s Back Cove might see in the future, which led to various meetings among Bayside residents, property owners, and businesspeople to discuss what might be done in response.
His company, Catalysis Adaptation Partners, puts that research into practice, and will present a report next month on what Portlanders can expect on the Commercial Street side of the peninsula in 2050 and 2100, to kickstart a Portland Society for Architecture community-wide conversation about what actions public and private entities might take to avert, avoid, or at least minimize disaster.
Merrill has left the university to devote himself to doing similar work worldwide, combining science with what might be called “civic psychotherapy,” supporting local communities as they develop solutions to the problems they face as a result of rising sea levels and increasingly powerful storms.
He’s already helping planners at Boston’s Logan Airport and in Florida, and even in Minnesota, which is struggling with extreme weather events that wash out bridges along the shore of Lake Superior. The local governments in London and in Santos, Brazil (just outside Sao Paulo)*, have brought Catalysis in to help them develop plans to avoid getting so wet in the future.
Big changes, bigger questionsIn 2007, Merrill realized that the debate around climate change had been subsumed by two excesses: data and fear. We knew a whole lot about how bad things are likely to get, but had very little idea what would be the best approach to minimize the harm and damage.
The prospects are pretty terrifying. If all the ice on the planet melted, sea level would rise 216 feet, according to the US Geological Survey, as quoted in National Geographic magazine’s September issue. In Portland, that would leave about six feet of the very top of the Portland Observatory above the water.
That can’t happen overnight, or even, experts expect, terribly quickly — it might take thousands of years. The US Army Corps of Engineers suggests planners expect five feet of sea-level rise by 2100. That’s also the upper end of most official state and local estimates, which are usually based on the readings from the official tide gauge on the Maine State Pier. It’s enough to put Portland’s waterfront roughly back at Fore Street, which is where it was before Commercial Street was built on fill in the middle of the
19th century.
Faced with that level of change, what should we do? Is a seawall the right answer? How big should it be, and where? What about building a new school, or moving a sewage-treatment plant? The dollar amounts for these things are always in the millions, if not the billions. Nobody wants to spend that much money and find out years from now it was too much — or too little, or the right amount but in the wrong place.
“We don’t need more data. We need more conversations,” Merrill says. (See sidebar, “Reports, And More Reports,” for a sampling of some of the data that’s been out there for years.)
Setting up the conversationIt’s important to have something concrete to talk about, though. That’s where Merrill’s method comes in. It is built on mathematical formulas developed by Paul Kirshen, a civil-engineering professor at the University of New Hampshire, coupled with three-dimensional imagery and modeling assembled by Hallowell-based Blue Marble Geographics.
The software is free to download and use, though it requires a certain level of familiarity with Geographic Information Systems data management, as well as access to property records and elevation data in certain specific formats. While hard to assemble on your own at home, it’s well within the range of most municipal planning-department staffers.
Relatively new data with extremely fine detail about elevations is key, says Blue Marble president Patrick Cunningham: “Five centimeters is the difference between (safety and) flooding the town.”
People can quickly identify the places where risk is highest (notice how fast you processed the information in the accompanying map of the Portland peninsula, below), and where it’s low or absent.
This clears people’s fear of the unknown, Merrill says, and turns it into civic engagement to address what are now clearly identifiable problems.
People can see what will happen if no action is taken in the face of sea-level rise and storm surge, as well as what will happen if certain specific actions are taken, allowing city leaders and average residents to compare a set of options for the future. Is a seawall better in one place, or should one area be allowed to flood to save another area that’s more important for some reason?
Merrill says it’s “really putting people in the driver’s seat and helping them evaluate their own risk tolerance.”
What he brings is not only the expertise to construct a strong set of models of various conditions, but also experience facilitating the conversations that must necessarily follow.
He finds, often, that people “are fed up with all the planning and never getting to implementation.” But the decision to pull the trigger is difficult.
“People don’t want scientists telling them what to do,” Merrill admits. “We’re not pushing anything. We don’t come in with any solutions or tell people what they should do. . . . They decide what they want to do.”
The community identifies how to measure value, whether in property assessments, or number of jobs, or natural resources, or any number of other attributes. They also pick what to prepare for — what range of sea-level rise, how big a storm surge — and possible options for protection — erecting a seawall, raising a building’s foundation, or even relocating a key building.
Then Catalysis runs the numbers and returns with maps and tables showing the likely outcomes: How much damage will be done in a single major storm under certain conditions, and the total damage done over the course of a century of sea-level rise and increasingly powerful storms. Most importantly, the report also includes pricing estimates for the protective actions, so people can make a cost-benefit analysis.
Dampening the Port City“The local tidal data has shown that sea level is rising,” Merrill notes. And people remember storms, like the Patriots’ Day storm in 2007 and the Mother’s Day storm the following year.
It’s useful to look at storm data beyond just predicting future storm damage: Three to four feet of storm surge now is the equivalent of what will be normal after that much sea-level rise in coming decades.
Some areas of Portland have already taken steps to adapt, says Bill Needelman, a senior planner for the city. Whole Foods is elevated above its surroundings, and the Intermed building on Marginal Way has a floor that’s above the street level.
“The city has been very forward-thinking in trying to solve drainage problems in Bayside,” observes JT Lockman, Catalysis’s vice-president of environmental planning. But still, during the highest local tides, sea water comes up the storm drain near Whole Foods and forms a salty puddle, even on sunny days, Lockman says.
Commercial Street, too, has seen some flooding at very high tides even without bad weather — and during some storms, many workers and residents recall seeing water spout out of runoff drains, flooding downtown streets and intersections.
What Lockman has found is that on the Maine coast, where the tidal range can be 10 or 11 feet, “if an event is short and it comes at low tide, it’s really no big deal.” But if it’s a storm that lasts for days, or arrives when tides are running above normal, or with high onshore winds, the toll can rise rapidly.
His preliminary results are just being reviewed for final tweaking before release to the public, but “our results are pretty much the same” as 2011 projections from Clean Air Cool Planet, which themselves resemble a 2009 UMass projection for the Casco Bay Estuary Partnership.
“What we hope to do is help the architects really get the conversation started,” Lockman says. Some options include whether the city should require buildings to be elevated, or give grants to property owners to raise their buildings. There is, after all, a cost to adaptation — and a cost if we don’t adapt.
“It’s a fancy calculator,” says Merrill. The real key is humans: “Going in and running those meetings is not for the faint of heart.” (See sidebar, “The Kingston Example.”)
Even when the data used in the models comes from major past disasters, Lockman notes that people often see the maps as best-case scenarios: “A lot of people have looked at the predictions and said, ‘We actually think reality will be worse than this.’”
That turns quickly into the fact that nobody can afford to deal with the risks themselves. Some people want help from the government, while others think government spending is already too high.
This leads to a community discussion among different values — not just about the role of government, but about whether taking action to protect a significant historic site might damage a nearby wetland (or vice-versa), Merrill says.
And that’s where the Portland Society for Architecture comes in. Back in May 2011 the PSA held its first community-wide conversations about sea-level rise, including talking about Back Cove, says Executive Director Carole Merrill (who is no relation to Catalysis’s Sam).
Building on the high level of interest in that process, the PSA hired Catalysis to look at what will happen if the ocean rises two feet by 2050 and four feet by 2100, as well as what storms may come our way.
 “We want to present the opportunities and challenges,” she says, which will start with Lockman’s presentation on November 7 at the city’s Ocean Gateway Terminal, followed by a talk by Susannah Drake, a New York City architect working on new designs in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The following morning, SPACE Gallery will host a series of roundtable discussions to consider options for different areas of the waterfront. A few days before, on November 1, SPACE will open a two-month show of maps showing “progressive inundation by rising waters over time” in Portland.
As those conversations evolve, policymakers will be listening carefully, says the planning department’s Needelman. “It’s a difficult conversation, as Hurricane Sandy has shown down south, with real consequences. It warrants a broad community conversation before we establish the policies.”
The PSA discussion will “help establish common understandings of where the risk is, and the language of adaptation,” he says.
Looking statewideUnfortunately, Portland is doing this work mostly alone. Other towns around the state are doing similar work, but they’re not coordinating as much as they could be. This was predicted in a 2011 report from Clean Air Cool Planet: “Attention to climate preparedness in Maine has been present at the state level . . . However, there is concern that shifts in policy positions will negatively influence climate change adaptation efforts.”
Sure enough, the coastal adaptation plan the Maine Department of Environmental Protection submitted to the legislature in 2010 has been removed from the state’s website.
That report said the state “should develop a standardized set of criteria for assessing coastal communities and infrastructure for response and resilience to likely climate impacts, including a mechanism for evaluating vulnerability . . . (that) should be used to guide investments in infrastructure repair, protection, and land conservation and restoration.” Earlier this year, Republican Governor Paul LePage vetoed a bill to do exactly that, saying it wasn’t necessary.
But certain initiatives continue. Merrill is in fact working with the Maine Department of Transportation to evaluate options for bridge repairs and replacements. He’s examining alternative bridge designs — options with costs varying by millions of dollars — to see where those expenses will be most valuable. “It’s about fiscal efficiency,” Merrill says.
It’s because of that penny-pinching instinct that Merrill has high hopes for his approach, even if state leadership is missing. He’s not the only one who found demand for Catalysis-like services to be high: A Maine Sea Grant and UMaine Cooperative Extension report found in the summer of 2011 that “coastal property owners want to take action, but don’t know which strategies are most effective.” The options were laid out in an 85-page booklet comprehensively compiling the possible actions (including a wide range of protection options for beaches, sea bluffs, and coastal wetlands),  with little direction on how to sort through the possibilities, or what to do if your neighbor had already started some sort of adaptation work next door.
And there are even more possibilities down the road, Merrill says, modeling other potential disasters, such as fire or drought — anything that can be simulated mathematically. As Merrill sardonically puts it, he’s working hard at “helping society figure out how to get out of harm’s way in the least bloody manner.” 
*Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect the name of the Brazilian town where Catalysis is working.
The Kingston exampleKingston, New York, is a city of about 25,000 people 90 miles north along the Hudson River from New York City. In 2011, the city was flooded from massive downpours in Hurricane Irene. Then in 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit, driving water levels up (the Hudson is tidal for another 60-plus miles upriver) and knocking out the local sewage-treatment plant.
Gregg Swanzey, the city’s director of economic development and strategic partnerships, says that led the mayor in December 2012 to create a large task force to help the town prepare for the uncertain future. That included hiring Catalysis Adaptation Partners to model the future and help with the community discussions. As Catalysis’s Sam Merrill points out, the cash-strapped federal and state governments can’t be counted on to do prevention, or even rescue. Towns and cities have to take this into their own hands.
“We have to have the hard conversations. It’s better than not if we’re all going to get wet,” Merrill says.
Most residents, Swanzey says, had one of two responses: “Don’t talk about it, or put a big wall up.” But seawalls aren’t often the real answer in waterfront communities. They might block water from entering commercial areas, but they also block people’s access to the water. Waterfront property owners, whether residential, commercial, or industrial, have large investments whose value is tied to water access.
During a series of meetings in the community, people were able to talk about ways they might prepare for more water, including seeking innovative building designs, such as those that can withstand flooding, or that float. Swanzey himself is in charge of seeking grants to help the city plan for moving the sewage plant, as well as other aspects of adaptation.
“People tend to look at what we have now and they want to protect what we have now,” Swanzey says, but notes it’s important to look at other alternatives that might be more workable solutions.
Reports, and more reportsThe data is out there, and has been for years. But the conversations about what needs to be done next are not happening. Here are just some of the Maine-related documents that have been prepared by government, academic, and advocacy organizations in the past four years alone.
Maine’s Climate Future: An Initial Assessment | University of Maine | February 2009 (revised April 2009)
Climate Change and Transportation in Maine | Maine Department of Transportation | October 2009
Climate Change in the Casco Bay Watershed | Casco Bay Estuary Partnership | December 2009
People and Nature Adapting to a Changing Climate: Charting Maine’s Course (Part 1Part 2 ) | Maine Department of Environmental Protection | February 2010
COAST in Action: 2012 Projects from Maine and New Hampshire | New England Environmental Finance Center | July 2012