The Army Corps of Engineers has begun soliciting public comments on its long-awaited updated proposal to stabilize the shoreline at Camp Ellis Beach in Saco, an area often pummeled by bad weather and beset with erosion.
The corps has partnered with the city of Saco to draft a feasibility study and environmental assessment of the project, which would build a 750-foot perpendicular spur onto the existing north jetty and truck in about 365,000 cubic yards of sand to mitigate erosion at the beach.
The updated proposal has not yet been approved, but money for the project was included in the Water Resources Development Act that passed through Congress almost four years ago.
Richard Heidebrecht, project manager for the Army Corps’ New England District, said Camp Ellis Beach has eroded considerably over the last century and has lost more than 30 buildings and residences in the past 50 years. The beach at the mouth of the Saco River is home to a variety of recreational and commercial activities, including fishing, shipping of paper products, and boating.
If approved, the project would be paid for entirely with federal dollars, although the city of Saco would have to cover 50 percent of the cost of any future beach renourishment. The Army Corps estimates that the beach sand would need to be replenished every 11 years or so.
City Councilor Phil Blood, who represents the ward that includes Camp Ellis, said the project has been studied for nearly two decades. City, state and federal officials have been doing what they can to patch the problem, but Blood said a more permanent fix is critical.
The original jetty was built after the Civil War to keep the Saco River open to barges, which transported goods. In the mid-20th century, the jetty was extended, a project that changed the current of the water and actually created the present problem.
“The sand no longer comes down the river to replenish the shorefront,” Blood said. “Instead, the water pushes the sand down almost to Scarborough. In the process, the beach here just wears away. There are four complete sets of streets that aren’t there anymore.”
During every major storm, weather watchers and television crews head to Camp Ellis to watch the massive waves. The beach sticks out from the land like a thumb and often gets hit first by powerful nor’easters. Every time a major storm hits, emergency officials install sandbags to help keep the earth from washing into the sea. But it hasn’t been enough. Just last winter, the beach lost about 7 to 10 feet.
The proposal by the Army Corps of Engineers is subject to an environmental impact study that could determine how the project proceeds.
Blood said he expects the proposal to generate thorough public debate. Previous proposals have had the support of Save our Shores Maine, a nonprofit advocacy group. A representative of that group could not be reached Friday.
“Anything like this is going to bring out different opinions,” Blood said. “I can’t imagine there won’t be opposition. But we’ve got to do something soon, not just keep talking about doing something. Nothing can stop Mother Nature, but we can at least try to slow it down.”
The proposed project may be viewed online at: http://www.nae.usace.army.mil/Missions/ProjectsTopics/CampEllis.aspx.
Public comments on the project may be submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New England District, Engineering and Planning Division, Attn: Richard Heidebrecht, 696 Virginia Road, Concord, Mass. 01742-2751. Comments also can be emailed to email@example.com.
Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at: