The Saco Jetty stretches out into Saco Bay from the Saco River. It’s long been blamed for causing erosion along the local coastline. LIZ GOTTHELF/Journal Tribune

SACO — Erosion has eaten away at Saco’s shoreline for decades. It’s an age-old problem, and a newly revitalized advocacy group is demanding a solution.

Coastal erosion has long been blamed on the Saco Jetty, a stone structure that stretches from the mouth of Saco River 6,600 feet into the ocean in the Camp Ellis section of the city. The jetty was a federal project built in the late 1800s to create a smooth shipping channel in the river.

An aftereffect of the jetty has been the disruption of the natural flow of sand that has caused erosion on Saco’s coastline, over the years wiping away beach front, streets and properties in  Camp Ellis.

In 2007, $26.9 million was authorized for an erosion mitigation solution, but such a project had not come to fruition.

The Army Corps of Engineers has proposed a project that would construct a 750-foot spur that would run perpendicular to the current jetty, off the side of the main structure. The proposal would also include 225,000 cubic yards of sand replenishment for the beach.

Under this proposal the city would be responsible for recommended periodic beach replenishment and maintenance of the structure.

Many local people familiar with the situation believe that a proposal that includes that addition of offshore breakwaters would be more effective in offsetting erosion, however, this would require additional funding and has not been sanctioned by the Army Corps.

Some favor the city taking a stronger stance against the Army Corps and its proposal.

During a recent City Council meeting, Mayor Marston Lovell said that while some think of erosion as a Camp Ellis problem, it’s really a Saco Bay problem. Erosion is  impacting beaches in Saco south of Camp Ellis and has begun to travel to the beach in Ocean Park, which is part of Old Orchard Beach, he said.

The city needs to team up with neighboring beach communities and get the governor on board to send a stronger message to the federal government that beach, which is a significant source of summer revenue, is in trouble, Lovell said.

There is also a potential lawsuit against the corps being proposed by local beach front residents.

And most recently, there has been the reboot of a local advocacy group SOS – Save Our Shores – Camp Ellis, with the newly organized SOS Saco Bay.

SOS Saco Bay is hosting a community meeting and social at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 24  at the Gayla Theater at the Ferry Beach Retreat and Conference Center, 14 Morris Ave. All community members are invited, as President Kevin Roche said, this is a problem that impacts the whole city.

Coastal property owners have suffered the loss of homes or flood damage and the city has lost tax revenue from sunken homes. Also, every year the city uses taxpayer money for temporary fixes to the damaged coast.

“This is all of our beach and we are wasting our local taxpayer money band-aiding a problem caused by the federal government,” said Roche. “We are throwing away money and it’s not a sea level issue.”

The Army Corps of Engineers has admitted that the jetty it built has caused erosion, said Roche.

“We need to do everything we can as a community to get the Army Corps to pay for a solution and save the beach,” he said.

SOS Saco Bay’s goal is to work with private citizens, and local, state and federal governments to bring the issue of erosion in Saco Bay to the forefront.

Earlier this month an introductory meeting of SOS Saco Bay that attracted 75 people on a Monday afternoon, Roche said.  He said he hopes this weekend’s meeting will also attract a good response. A guest speaker will discuss a forthcoming lawsuit against the Army Corps by local residents.

For more information on SOS Saco Bay, go to sossacobay.com.

Staff Writer Liz Gotthelf can be reached at 780-9015 or by email at [email protected]

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