Maine seaside village seeks solution to erosion

By Clarke Canfield

Associated Press

Published: Monday, May 27 2013 9:25 a.m. MDT

FILE - In this Tuesday, April 17, 2007 file photo, the remains of a shore front road lie on the beach near homes destroyed by a severe nor'easter that lashed the East Coast, in the Ferry Beach section of Saco, Maine. Through the decades, the ocean has destroyed more than 30 homes on the coast in Saco.

Robert F. Bukaty, File, Associated Press

SACO, Maine — Through the decades, the ocean has destroyed more than 30 homes in the seaside village of Camp Ellis. It's washed away roadways, utility poles and wires, seawalls, and sewer and water lines.

Property owners have long sought a remedy, and numerous studies have looked at the problem without an answer.

Now, a new in-depth report is recommending a solution, giving residents more hope than ever that something — finally — might be done. If all goes to plan, a new rock jetty would be built to keep beach-eroding waves away, and the beach would be replenished with nearly a billion pounds of sand.

"We've never gotten to this point before. We're ready to go," said Rick Milliard, who grew up in Camp Ellis and now lives a few houses back from the beach. "I think it's this time or probably no time."

Nowhere else in Maine — or perhaps New England — has prolonged beach erosion wreaked the havoc it has at Camp Ellis, a small community in Saco at the mouth of the Saco River. It has about 20 streets with old homes on small lots, a neighborhood store and two seasonal restaurants. A public pier, commercial fishing boats and marinas are situated on the river.

The shoreline here has been eroding away for decades, thanks to a breakwater built by the federal government in the 1800s that juts into the ocean. The jetty protects the entrance channel to the Saco River, but it prevents sand from the river from moving north and replenishing the Camp Ellis beach; it also deflects ocean waves toward the beach, accelerating the erosion.

Two breakwaters are at the mouth of the river. The problematic one to the north, which is now 6,600 feet long, was first built between 1868 and 1871. The 4,500-foot south jetty was built in the 1890s. Both jetties were extended and altered over the years, and the erosion became particularly bad in the 1950s after the last of a series of extensions.

Through the years the beachfront has eroded away, making the community vulnerable during the nor'easters and other wild storms that have taken away homes and roads. About 30 property lots that existed in 1908 are now submerged, according to a 81-page document released last month by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Some of the property owners still own their lots, now under water, and even pay taxes on them.

Milliard's father built a home around 1950 a couple of houses back from the ocean. He later sold the cottage, and the new owner eventually had to move it because of the encroaching ocean. "If it were here today, it would be underwater," he said.

What sets the latest study apart is its use of in-depth computer models of tides, currents and waves that show exactly where the beach-eroding waves come from, giving engineers a better idea of possible solutions.

In the end, the Army Corps came up with about 30 alternatives, including removing the north jetty, building new jetties in various locations or simply replenishing the beach with new sand. The report even looked at a buy-out plan to purchase and demolish all properties within the projected 50-year erosion zone.

The recommended alternative proposes building a 750-foot jetty to run perpendicular to the north jetty about 1,500 feet from shore and replenishing the beach with 365,000 cubic yards of sand. Getting the sand to the beach would require one tandem-axle dump truck load every six minutes for 12 hours each day for four months, said Saco City Administrator Richard Michaud.

The projected cost is about $23 million, to be paid for by the Army Corps of Engineers. The plan's 30-day public comment period ends Tuesday.

Michaud said if the project moves forward, it will probably take a year to get the appropriate permits, after which the Corps would build the rock jetty and then bring in the beach fill. The timetable is unclear, but he thinks in a best-case scenario construction of a new jetty could possibly begin in the late summer of 2015.

Congress has authorized the project and $26 million toward it, he said.

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