Community Infrastructure: Challenges & Examples

Due the logistical challenges attached with rurality and the lack of incentive for private investment, certain communities face hurdles when implementing the infrastructure that other communities take for granted like high speed internet or affordable energy.

Addressing Affordable Housing

On many Maine islands, there is a shortage of affordable, year-round housing. This includes affordably priced homes for sale and rental units, especially those available for a full year rather than only in off-peak seasons. The effect of this lack of housing is to make attracting and retaining families—and especially the young residents of islands as they become adults—much more difficult. The lack of housing also provides a significant barrier to economic activity. It’s extremely difficult to find qualified applicants for year-round positions (e.g. school teachers or town employees) or even for summer positions (restaurant staff, sternmen for lobster boats, etc.) without affordable, comfortable housing units in which those employees can live. In the long run, an inability to offer quality housing to school teachers and to the young families that provide island schools with new students could be an existential threat to the year-round nature of many of these communities. Recognizing the significance of the problem, several islands have launched organizations to address this issue. They have used a combination of philanthropic donations, state funds, and sweat equity to create housing units appropriate to their communities. But in nearly all cases, there remains a significant need for more housing.

Solution Examples

Designating Ocean Spaces

When decision makers are going through the regulatory process (e.g. the designation of ocean spaces for a particular use), it can be difficult to ensure that all stakeholders are being recognized. That means that waterfront communities and their needs are not always being addressed, and this can prove to be a problem—especially when the decision-making process is focused on regulating ocean spaces. New documents and data goldmines like the Northeast Ocean Plan and Northeast Ocean Data Portal are providing invaluable tools for waterfront communities to use to make sure their voices are heard when it matters most.

Solution Examples

Expanding Broadband Access

Many people in the U.S. take high-speed internet service (broadband) for granted, but it’s a necessity for businesses, community services, and individuals who work from home. Most of Maine’s remote coastal communities and islands don’t have access to fast, reliable internet, which puts these communities on the wrong side of the digital divide and out of contact with customers, clients, and visitors. The lack of broadband negatively affects everyone: businesses, fishermen, students, municipal services, residents, and visitors. Many coastal and island residents are working together to solve this problem by identifying and implementing improvements to infrastructure to support broadband, while raising awareness of the challenge and the ways that broadband can be used to improve business efficiency, workforce development, and quality of life.

Solution Examples

Lowering Energy Costs

Buy heating fuel in an island community, and you might pay a dollar more per gallon than mainland customers. Electricity prices are similarly high; islands connected to the grid with submarine cables pay high prices due to periodic cable replacements and on-island distribution and maintenance costs. Islands without a cable are often powered by diesel generators, expensive both to fuel and maintain. These same challenges are faced by rural communities in many remote places around North America and beyond. Islanders and others serviced by a small electric co-op face another concern. With only a few hundred (or fewer) customers, set costs like energy generation or transmission, distribution, and maintenance are shared by a small number of consumers. If a large building were suddenly to drop off the grid (which could happen if people pursue individual solutions, like roof-top solar, without community-wide coordination), other users would see an increase in their bills.

Solution Examples

Managing Solid Waste

While mainland residents can adopt an 'out of sight, out of mind' approach to their trash, if you live on an island, you know that solid waste removal is neither simple nor invisible. Nor cheap. In the age of plastics, older island methods like burning, backyard dumping, and ocean sinking aren't legal or desirable. Islands present particular challenges when managing solid waste. Finite space, thin topsoil, and the high potential for groundwater contamination preclude the traditional landfill. Federal clean air acts and the risk of fire prevent large-scale burning. Remote locations and erratic ferry schedules mean that transport off the island can be infrequent and expensive. Whether contracting with a nearby city, using private barge, or relying upon volunteers, each island must consider its own particular set of circumstances when developing a sustainable waste management program.

Solution Examples

Preparing for Rising Seas

Late in 2017, the U.S. government released a report on climate change that estimates more extreme and damaging weather disaster events and a rise in global sea levels amounting to several inches in the next 15 years and one to four feet – with the possibility of rising even by as much as eight feet – by 2100. Looking to the future, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) identifies the coast of Maine as being particularly vulnerable to storm events and sea level rise. In fact, the coast and islands are already grappling with historic storm damage and coastal flooding.

Solution Examples

Providing Sustainable Transportation

Island communities are dependent on transportation to and from the mainland for very simple daily needs as well as extreme circumstances. Most island residents depend on modes of transportation like ferries and air services to bring food, fuel, mail, and other necessities to the island, as well as to transport waste off the island. They also depend on transportation infrastructure to access key mainland services and to transport individuals in emergency situations. Having these services is one of the key factors that allows an island to function as a year-round community. Operating a year-round transportation service can be costly and complicated. When it comes to financial stability, meeting a community’s expectations, and the potential for large amounts of carbon emissions, reliability and sustainability are key. Ownership models vary, but most are structured as one of the following: a state-run entity, a private corporation, a nonprofit, a transit district, or part of the municipality. Almost all of these services to year-round island communities in the United States require some sort of a subsidy to stay in operation. Communities without a year-round transportation service, with a service they are unhappy with, or those facing the closing of their service often wish to identify what other options are available, as well as what benefits and difficulties arise with each.

Solution Examples