For the past 25 years I have had a passionate interest in protecting and preserving the beaches of southern Maine, especially in my hometown of Wells. This has led to my running for and serving as town selectman in Wells, becoming involved in several state task forces dealing with coastal issues – such as rewriting of the State’s Sand Dune Rules and a comprehensive beach management program – and starting an organization called Save Our Shores-Maine.

Back in the early 1990s, I began to notice the physical changes to the beaches of Wells, in particular Drakes Island Beach where I live. The erosion of these beaches concerned me because of the enormous impact the beaches have on the state and local economies, as well as the protection they provide to the coastal properties that line the shore front and the valuable habitat for coastal birds including the endangered piping plover.

With the potential of loosing these important habitats, I embarked on several initiatives to bring much needed sand to the beach infrastructure and to attempt to slow the erosion forces that were displacing much of the sand lost within the altered shoreline. Dredging of our harbor and placing the sand on the area beaches provided some limited benefit. Placing large sand bags and artificial matting material likewise provided minimal affects on the erosional forces of winter storms.

In 2004, I was asked by the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee to serve on a state task force to develop a comprehensive, state-wide beach management policy. The membership included the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Maine Geologic Survey, Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Maine Audubon, coastal property owners, Maine Innkeepers and Maine Chamber of Commerce. This group met monthly for 2 years and developed a comprehensive, Integrated Beach Management Plan. In 2006, this plan was presented to the Legislative committee that organized us and there it has sat.

I was fortunate to have had an opportunity to travel to New Jersey in June of 2014 to observe the coastal damage caused by super storm Sandy. What I found was those areas of the coast that had implemented similar beach management techniques that our report had suggested, like beach nourishment along with sand dune construction, survived far better than those areas that had not. The simple answer was that proactive management can provide longterm sustainability of our coastal beaches.

When I was elected to the Maine Legislature last November, I dusted off the report and submitted it as a proposed bill, LD 1254, An Act To Implement and To Fund an Integrated Beach Management Program, which seeks to enact our recommendations into state statute. The bill also seeks funding of a statemanaged grant system to which those municipalities seeking to implement beach nourishment projects could apply. The plan also requires active engagement of the State’s Geologic Survey team to evaluate and recommend nourishment projects. With a stateendorsed beach management program, federal funds become available through the Army Corp of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

While many recognize the importance of our beaches to the economic viability of our tourist based economy – 67 percent of all tourist-related tax revenue to the state comes from York and Cumberland counties – several groups lined up to oppose my funding source, which was to apply a $1 fee per hotel room, per day, from May 1 to Oct. 3. If approved, this would have raised $4.5 million per year. This funding source is similar to ones applied in Florida to be used for their massive beach nourishment programs. As a result of the opposition, I requested that my bill be carried over to next session so that alternative funding sources might be identified. Only time will tell if I am successful and we snatch this opportunity to save our beaches before it’s too late!

Rep. Robert Foley, R-Wells is serving his first term in the Maine House of Representatives, serving House District 7.

Comments are not available on this story.