The waters of Hen Cove flow into a box culvert on Bethel Point Road in Cundy’s Harbor on Oct. 19. A grant from a state climate change program will pay for an engineering firm to design improvements to the bridge that would protect it from sea level rise. (J.W. Oliver photo)

The town will use a $50,000 grant from a state climate change program to design improvements for two roads where flooding could cut off residents from their homes and fishermen from town landings and wharves.

On Bailey Island’s Abner Point Road, engineers will look at an area near the Mackerel Cove Town Landing and Lubee Drive. On Bethel Point Road in Cundy’s Harbor, they will assess a bridge over Hen Cove.

Both sites are critical to the community. The roads provide the only way in and out for dozens of residents, and provide access to working waterfront.

Abner Point Road leads to several commercial fishing businesses on Mackerel Cove. Bethel Point Road leads to a town landing used not only for fishing and aquaculture, but also for emergency services to launch rescue boats.

In a letter of support for the grant, Harpswell Harbor Master Paul Plummer said the loss of access to the landings “would be crippling to the marine economy in Harpswell.”

Harpswell’s examination of the vulnerability of roads and town landings to sea level rise dates to at least 2016. Past projects have put plans in place for Basin Point Road, Garrison Cove Town Landing and Lookout Point Town Landing.

A sign tells citizen scientists how to gather data about water levels at the tidal Mill Pond, across Bethel Point Road from Hen Cove. In 2018, the Harpswell Conservation Commission set up the signs in various locations to document the impact of sea level rise on roads and wetlands. (J.W. Oliver photo)

The identification of necessary improvements to town roads is the second-highest priority in the town’s two-year climate action plan, according to the grant application. The first is to reduce the town’s carbon footprint.

Work toward the first priority is underway with an earlier grant from the same program. Maine’s Community Resilience Partnership awarded the town $32,303 in December 2022 for the installation of LED lighting at the Town Office and an energy audit of the building.

The Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future administers the Community Resilience Partnership, which helps municipalities plan for climate change and reduce carbon emissions. The partnership awarded Harpswell its latest grant on Oct. 11.

The current project “will investigate strategies for allowing roads to remain useable to 1.5 feet of sea level rise and storm surge,” the application states.

Both Abner Point Road and the Bethel Point Road bridge are already vulnerable to flooding. In December 2022, flooding from the combination of a storm and an unusually high tide transported one boat across Abner Point Road and deposited another in the road, according to a letter of support for the grant from neighborhood residents Dennis and Linda Wilkins.

At the Bethel Point Road bridge, a box culvert allows the waters of Hen Cove to flow into Mill Pond, but windy conditions can bring the water to the top of the box culvert at high tide, according to Mary Ann Nahf, chair of both the Harpswell Conservation Commission and the Harpswell Resiliency and Sustainability Committee. A Conservation Commission project has been collecting data about sea level rise at the bridge since 2018.

Waves lap the surface of Abner Point Road, Bailey Island, during a storm on Dec. 23, 2022, as seaweed and marine debris coat the roadway. Flooding from the storm and an unusually high tide transported one boat across the road and deposited another in the road, according to neighborhood residents. (Richard Lamon photo)

The South Portland engineering firm Gorrill Palmer will prepare the designs. The firm frequently assists the town with road projects, including a 2018 report on how to protect Basin Point Road against sea level rise.

The project will include a community forum to inform and gather input from the public, as well as a second public meeting to review the plans and cost estimates for implementation.

The budget for the project is $60,000. The town will provide a 20% match for the grant, or $10,000, from a sustainability reserve account set up at annual town meeting in March. The Harpswell Select Board accepted the grant and approved the match on Oct. 19.

Abner Point and Bethel Point are among six major town roads that will be vulnerable to 2 feet of sea level rise, according to the grant application. The others are Basin Point Road and Lookout Point Road, on Harpswell Neck; Dingley Island Road, near Cundy’s Harbor; and Lowell’s Cove Road, on Orr’s Island.