August 11, 2013

Camp Ellis fix moving forward on a wave of uncertainty

The Army Corps of Engineers wants to fix Saco River’s jetty in a bid to stop erosion. But if it works, how long will it last?

By North Cairn
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 3)

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With a storm front moving in overhead, two anglers fish from the jetty at Camp Ellis. The 6,600-foot jetty, with the ocean on the left side and the mouth of the Saco River on the right, is a popular location for striper fishing. Over many decades, it also has been the primary cause of severe erosion requiring a costly fix.

2007 Maine Sunday Telegram file photo/Gregory Rec

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Erosion at Camp Ellis

Examine how the beach at Camp Ellis has eroded since 1908 and may erode between now and 2061 with our interactive time lapse map.

Meanwhile, pummeling waves, high winds, nor'easters, blizzards and drifting sand are predicted to keep on doing what they have done right along, namely, sabotaging the best-laid plans for the Saco River and the parts of the neighborhood near its mouth and now, northward to Ferry Beach State Park.

Even Biddeford, Old Orchard Beach and Scarborough are seeing evidence of the movement of sand from south to north, said Millard. "It is a very difficult engineering problem," he said.

If the river had not been altered, Camp Ellis might have survived with little incident, or even grown in sand mass, but Saco and Biddeford would have lost crucial manufacturing development. Had the jetty never been built, the beach north of the river's mouth likely would have been replenished and rebuilt naturally. Even the sand pulled off the beach and out into deeper water in winter storms would be returned in spring, geologists have said.

But the jetty has changed the river, bay and shoreline so profoundly over the decades that removing it -- which to some people is the obvious answer -- would fail to return the area to its original condition.

"The system is so out of balance that if they did that, the corner of Camp Ellis would be lost," said Marvinney, the geologist chairman of the Saco Bay Implementation Team. "The spur will break up the worst of the wave action and the current that runs along the jetty," he said.


And now, another, bigger manmade problem looms. Projections from the corps of engineers and geologists suggest that human-induced climate change resulting in rising sea levels and more extreme weather could make matters exponentially worse for Camp Ellis. Depending on the extent and severity of rising sea levels, the reach of the ocean could extend inland by about the depth of the lots of five to seven properties along the shoreline of the community.

And whether the jetty spur would be drowned in the process is enough of a worry to have spurred the suggestion the project proposal be revised to add a few more feet to the height of the spur or to add more sand to increase dune height.

"The coast is tough," said the corps' Heidebrecht, acknowledging that if climate change results in huge rates of sea-level rise, "all bets are off.'

"How many bad storms are you going to get in the next five years?" he said.

"But I believe we have the appropriate solution," Heidebrecht said. The spur will result in conditions that will come close to pre-jetty conditions, he said. "We definitely hope it will go ahead."

Whatever happens here will be watched with interest all along southern coastal Maine, because Saco is not alone in facing these uncertainties, geologists have said. Many other communities and beaches, including Kennebunkport, Wells Beach and Popham Beach, already face similar threats.

What is still unfolding in Saco could have far-reaching implications for other coastal areas faced with ongoing erosion, more intense storms and rising sea levels due to climate change-in short, a shoreline that simply won't stay put. 

North Cairn can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:


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Additional Photos

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Dean Coniaris of Camp Ellis has a view of the jetty and Saco Bay from his porch on Eastern Avenue. He remembers the 1978 winter nor’easter that brought down as many as 18 houses along the shore.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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