SACO — A bill that would streamline the permitting process for measures to protect the Camp Ellis coastline received unanimous approval in the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee and will go to the Senate and House for further votes.

State Sen. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, is sponsoring the legislation at the request of Saco city officials. The coastal area of Camp Ellis has suffered erosion as the Saco River Jetty ”“ which extends from the mouth of the Saco River into Saco Bay ”“ disrupts the natural flow of sand. The jetty was built by the federal government in the late 1880s to create a smooth shipping channel.

More than 30 homes have been lost over the past several decades due to erosion, according to city documents.

Valentino said in an email the committee made some amendments to the bill yesterday, and the title was changed from “An Act To Allow Municipalities to Stabilize Sand Dunes Affected by Actions of the Federal Government” to “An Act to Allow the City of Saco to Stabilize the Coastline and Coastal Sand Dune System Adjacent to the Saco River.”

The bill, if passed, would amend the Natural Resources Protection Act to allow Saco to undertake certain limited property and municipal infrastructure protection measures, said Valentino. It would also allow the Department of Environmental Protection to approve a permit for Saco, to undertake, over a period of seven years, annual maintenance of the Saco River and beach nourishment at Camp Ellis.

“The committee was very responsive to Saco’s plight, and allowed us to work closely with the DEP on multiple versions of the bill until we all came to an agreement,” said Valentino. “By having a comprehensive plan approved by the DEP, Saco will save time and money that has been devoted to obtaining multiple, annual permits.”

Money saved by the bill could be used for sand nourishment, rock stabilization and Geotubes, large sandbag-like structures, she said.

Money has been appropriated for an Army Corps of Engineers project to offset erosion at Camp Ellis. A current proposal would construct a 750-foot spur perpendicular to the existing jetty. Details are still being ironed out, and the plans have been discussed for several years.

Saco City Administrator Richard Michaud said in an interview last month that as sand is moved to the north, there is less sand in the Camp Ellis area for protection, and the coastline is becoming increasingly more vulnerable to erosion.

“We’re feeling some urgency,” he said. “We could be losing housing in the short term.”

He said he would like to see a more permanent solution, like the proposed Army Corps project. However, the Army Corps project may be a number of years away, and the city needs a plan for the interim.

— Staff Writer Liz Gotthelf can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 325 or [email protected]

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