August 19, 2013

Our View: Intervention needed to preserve Camp Ellis

Steps should be taken to protect coastal property from the effects of climate change.

There's a convention in the Maine news business every time a severe storm hits: Hurry over to Camp Ellis and watch the waves threaten houses.

click image to enlarge

Waves crash at the end of Fairlawn Avenue in Camp Ellis last fall. A $20 million Army Corps of Engineers project could protect the beach from further erosion.

2012 File Photo/Gabe Souza

These stories have become more dramatic over the years as the beach has been washed away, leaving the structures more exposed, with 50 properties lost to the sea and another 60 in danger.

It's long past time to sit back and watch: The Army Corps of Engineers has proposed a $20 million project that could protect the beach from further erosion, and it is the kind of project that more coastal communities should be considering. Events of recent years such as Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast and Superstorm Sandy on the Eastern Seaboard illustrate the increasing danger that comes from climate change.

Sea levels are higher, extreme storms more destructive and neither trend will be reversed, even if aggressive efforts were made to reverse climate change.

The kind of protections needed for Camp Ellis are the types of projects we should be seeing more of.

It makes sense that the Army Corps should help Camp Ellis, because it was the same organization that created the problem. In order to keep the Saco River open to navigation so that ships could reach Biddeford's mills, the federal government built a pair of jetties in sections between 1828 and 1968.

The jetties were intended to keep the channel clear and protect the beachfront properties. It was only half a success.

The jetties allow sand to be swept away from the beach and stop it from being naturally replenished.

What's proposed is a stone spur that would protect the shore somewhat. The Army Corps has described this as a "now or never" moment for this stretch of coast.

The weather is not going to wait.

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration has warned of another summer of extreme weather events this year.

It predicts a 70 percent likelihood for 13 to 20 "named" storms this season, with three to six of those hurricanes reaching "major" status. These forecasts are above average for an Atlantic season, but could give a taste of what is to come.

Moving people off the Maine coast will never be an economically viable alternative. It makes much more sense to defend what we have and prepare for higher and rougher seas ahead.

The Army Corps should take this prudent step before it's too late for Camp Ellis.


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