I don’t have to remind anyone of the catastrophic coastal erosion our area has been hit with over the years with 30+ homes and hundreds of feet of beach being lost to the ocean. This man-made crisis, caused by the Saco River Jetty by the Army Corps of Engineers, needs to be permanently addressed once and for all.

Last month, I brought together stakeholders for a roundtable discussion to continue work on Camp Ellis and coastal erosion in our surrounding area. We had over 20 stakeholders there, including the Department of Environmental Protection, Maine Geological Survey, representatives of Maine’s Federal Delegation, Saco city administrators, Public Works Department, Mayor William Doyle, SOS Saco Bay, the Coastal Waters Commission, the Shoreline Commission and our legislative delegation from Saco and Old Orchard Beach. Our goal was to determine what role the state can play, where we are at with negotiations with the Army Corps, and who needs to be doing what on the various aspects of this issue. The key part to tackling this environmental issue for me is to establish actionable items. In order to do that, we got everyone in the room at the same time to determine next steps.

Here are a few of the items we are currently working on:

A dredge meeting with Army Corps was held in Augusta that we used to discuss a regional sand replenishment program with the dredged sand from Scarborough. This also happens to be our sand. There would be a cost-sharing arrangement with this, but the objective is to find an ongoing source for beach replenishment.

Saco City Hall officials are working on creating a regional Erosion Mitigation Group with area town officials and state officials to continue stakeholder meetings like the one we had and group resources with multiple towns being impacted. The more of us working together the better.

Our federal delegation officials are working on setting up a meeting between the City of Saco and the Army Corps to follow up their January letter to re-start negotiations and conversations around Section 111 project funding and approval.

Maine Geological Survey officials will reach out to the state parks to coordinate awareness of the rapid erosion at Ferry Beach State Park. According to a recent December 2019 report, the beach is rapidly losing 5 feet a year.

Finally, on the legislative level, I’m co-sponsoring legislation with Rep. Lori Gramlich, D-Old Orchard Beach, LD 774 “An Act To Protect Maine’s Beaches and Shoreline” to implement some of the recommendations of the Beach Report regarding erosion. It has passed both chambers.

If you’d like to stay updated with the progress being made and participate to provide feedback, I have a couple suggestions for you.

SOS Saco Bay is a non-partisan, interest-based advocacy group. They support efforts to remediate the damage from wave action caused by the jetty and to rehabilitate the beaches. They act as an intermediary between private citizens and public officials. SOS Saco Bay will also provide a single, comprehensive location where all interested parties can go for information including studies — past and present — and updates on actions designed to restore our beaches. Kevin Roche is the president and David Plavin is the vice president of the organization. Their Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/SOSSacoBay and their website to sign up for updates is https://sossacobay.com.

The Saco Shoreline Commission meets monthly and has been the key point of contact for the city regarding coastal erosion and the Camp Ellis jetty issues. The mayor appoints members. Richard Milliard is the chair of the commission. These meetings are usually held at Ferry Beach Park Association and are open to the public. You can find the agendas at https://www.sacomaine.org/boards_and_committees/shoreline_commission.php.

Climate change is only going to exacerbate the issues going forward. As a member of the Maine Climate Council and member of the Legislature’s Environment & Natural Resources Committee, I am advocating for our entire region to ensure we have a seat at the table in crafting long-term policy recommendations. The comprehensive plan to mitigate climate change here in Maine is due by the end of the year to the Legislature. I will make sure coastal resiliency and beach replenishment will be part of it.

Overall, I remain committed to both immediate action and a long-term solution. 2020 has to be a year of action for Camp Ellis and coastal erosion happening all along our coastline. We can no longer accept the excuses from the Army Corps. We can no longer accept more stalled bureaucracy.

Justin Chenette is serving his second term in the Maine Senate representing Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Hollis, Limington and Buxton. He is the chair of the Government Oversight Committee, co-chair of the Democracy Reform Caucus, a member of the Environment and Natural Resources and Ethics Committees, and serves on the Maine Climate Council’s Coastal & Marine Working Group. He is also a Citizen Trade Policy commissioner. Outside the Legislature, Chenette is in real estate at the Bean Group, marketing coordinator of Saco Sport & Fitness, owner of Chenette Media LLC, and is vice president of Saco Main Street. Follow updates at justinchenette.com.

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