May 27, 2013

Residents hope tide has turned and plan will save Camp Ellis

By North Cairn
Staff Writer

SACO - Residents of Saco's Camp Ellis haven't stopped hoping for a solution to decades of beach erosion from the jetty at the mouth of the Saco River.

click image to enlarge

Waves crash at the end of Fairhaven Avenue in Camp Ellis last fall. Over the past four decades, the community has lost homes, roads and much of its beach to the ocean.

Gabe Souza/File photo


Comments to the Army Corps can be emailed to Richard Heidebrecht, project manager with the New England Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, at cenae-ep

For Colin Wormwood, co-owner with his wife, Cindy, of Wormwood's Restaurant on Bay Avenue, watching the world around them disappear, bit by bit, year by year, has gone on for a lifetime.

Wormwood was born and raised in Saco. He remembers when the beach stretched 400 feet out. Now, in places in Camp Ellis, at high tide, it extends just four feet.

"We've watched everything erode away," Cindy Wormwood said. "It's just diminished everything. It's sad."

In addition to roughly 50 pieces of property already lost to the sea, 60 more are in danger of being lost, she said.

"We feel enough is enough," she said. "This has got to stop."

And now, if a $20 million to $25 million strategy by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is approved, the restoration of the beach and the engineering correction to the jetty could finally happen.

Representatives from the Army Corps, state and city officials and constituents from the affected communities of Saco and Biddeford, have agreed on a plan that might save Camp Ellis.

After more than 20 years of study and 35 design proposals, the Army Corps has put forward a plan to construct a 750-foot-long stone spur to fix the erosion problem created more than a century ago by other manmade manipulations to the natural shoreline.

The spur would be attached to the north section of the jetty about 1,500 feet from shore, according to the Army Corps' published plan. Running roughly parallel to the beach, the top of the spur would be about 15 feet wide and high and would break the funnel effect of wave action around offshore islands and reflected off the jetty.

Additionally, about 365,000 cubic yards of sand would be used to replenish and widen Camp Ellis beach.

Public comment on the plan will be taken through Tuesday.

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.

The proposal by the Army Corps is subject to an environmental impact study that could determine how the project proceeds.

The Camp Ellis jetty -- actually, a pair of jetties -- was constructed in sections between 1828 and 1968, said Peter Morelli, development director for the city of Saco.

Substantially in place by 1911, it -- along with the dredging of the river -- was designed to ease commercial shipping to mills and later the navigation of fishing boats.

It also was intended to serve as a buffer to protect the beach from heavy storms -- particularly in winter. But it has had the reverse effect, actually making matters worse.

In the past year alone, the Camp Ellis community has lost a swath of beach as wide as 25 feet in spots, residents say. The jetty has not only failed to prevent the sea from demolishing dwellings, washing away streets and stealing the precious sandy beach, it has amplified the destructive force of nature.

Despite numerous efforts to curb the impact of wave action and sculpting winds -- especially pronounced during high tides and storms -- more of the dune ridge close to the water has been lost each year. The jetty continues to reflect the waves back onto the beach and carve away more sand, Morelli said.

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