Gary Anderson

Gary Anderson

Popham Beach is a one of a kind treasure enjoyed by many coming from far and wide to one of Maine’s best displays of its 3,478 miles of jagged coastline, as well as those that live nearby and well appreciate that as far as Maine beaches go there’s none finer.

That holds true for both Popham Beaches.

Mention Popham Beach and most think of the more frequented one at Popham Beach State Park. Unfortunately, that beach’s beauty, still impressive at low tide, is a bittersweet reminder of its former splendor. Once, one approached its shoreline through a deep expanse of long-established dunes that eventually opened upon a vast beach prior to encountering the water’s edge itself. After a major diversion of the Morse River’s outlet, that beach has been forever altered by massive erosion.

Now there’s essentially no beach at high tide and a ladder-like staircase accesses the exposed sand when the tide recedes. Speculation as to whether that redirection of the Morse was entirely a natural phenomenon or due to man-made interference by dumping BIW dredging spoils immediately offshore remains unsubstantiated. Whether prompt intervention by the Army Corps of Engineers would have prevented the extent of the erosion also remains an unanswered or unanswerable question. All that can be said with certainty is that the beach is no longer as it was. One might say it’s now a parttime beach. There when the moon allows.

The other Popham Beach remains essentially unchanged in that its fluid persona has always been one of routine reconfiguration before returning to one of its previous selves. How it will present itself, even day to day, is an essential part of its never tiring attraction. Extending from Fort Popham down to the open sea, its high water mark rises and falls, widening and thinning, as its geological elevation markedly shifts with the removal and deposit of sand from one tide to the next. Sometimes the beach’s slope is strikingly steep, while another visit will find the beach almost flat from low to high tide marks.

The only thing that remains constant is a group of iconic time-ravaged pilings that, like the still present Life Saving Station, stand as steadfast reminder of the once bustling former life of Popham’s heyday.

Those historic pilings have survived criticism as long as I have walked that stretch of beach. That’s been a very long time of enjoying not just the singular beauty of its scenic vista but the uniqueness of it being able to stay unmolested by that time’s passage.

Often the beach adjacent to the pilings becomes a formidable undercut wall one must climb over. Yet days later all that removed sand is back in spades, the erosion totally replaced. If the pilings were the cause of erosion one would expect that dynamic to be constant rather than so wildly erratic in its impact.

Recently, a new man-made presence has been constructed by someone admittedly long familiar with those pilings and the section of beach directly in front of them. Despite that knowledge, a massive vacation home was built there on the water’s edge and now its owner wants the pilings removed as a perceived threat to his property. For other property owners along the beach, and those generously availed of that communal resource, that individual’s contemplated unilateral action is feared as a threat to the beach in its entirety.

If the pilings are removed, the one thing we know for sure is that the water view, and part of Popham’s identity, will be changed immediately and forever. The other thing we can be assured of is that any impact caused by their removal cannot be reversed, at least not by replacement of those unique reminders of Popham’s rich history. If the pilings have nothing to do with changes to the beach then removing them will do no harm except pointlessly destroying the historic character of the view. If the pilings do have effect on that ever-changing shoreline then who is to say that their removal won’t negatively impact that shore in another, even worse, fashion? Hard telling not knowing.

When the state park’s beach was assaulted by the directional change of the Morse River the Army Corps and the DEP decided that it was best not to intercede, but to let nature proceed on its own course. Yet, when nearby Popham’s beach is suddenly determined to be in need of drastic intervention to what is as much of a natural element as any man-made object can be, given the pilings’ multi-generational presence, by a lone individual’s apparent vested interest, an individual with substantial statewide economic clout, a green light was readily approved by those same parties.

There’s the law and then there’s what’s right. Perhaps the individual requesting such a major change to the portion of the waterway directly in front of his property is correct on both. Perhaps his interference will prove warranted.

That lone individual is somehow legally allowed to decide Popham Beach’s fate. Let’s hope his seemingly privileged action does no harm and disproves all those fearful of his seemingly willful self-concern..

Gary Anderson lives in Bath.


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