The waves crashed over a sand bag levee at the end of Fairlawn Avenue in Camp Ellis in this October 2012, Portland Press Herald file photo. Saco City Council on Monday, Sept 14 voted to restart talks with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a partnership plan to mitigate further erosion. Gabe Souza/Portland Press Herald 

SACO — The Saco City Council wants to work with the U.S.  Army Corps of Engineers to solve longstanding erosion issues at Camp Ellis, a coastal community within city limits, and has unanimously voted to begin by expressing its intent to do so in a letter. 

The letter outlines the city’s desire to enter into a Project Partnership Agreement with the Army Corps — the first step in restarting a process that officially came to a halt in January, when the USACE stated that further study on the matter had ended 

The erosion issue, and the desire to mitigate it, has been talked about for decades. In 2007, the U.S. Congress set a cost limit of $26.9 million to remedy the situation. 

According to an April 2018 Portland Press Herald account, 38 homes have been destroyed in the past 50 years, roads have washed away and the beach is disappearing at a rate of several feet per year.

To solve the issue, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has proposed construction of a 750-foot spur to the existing jetty, which was built in 1867 and expanded in 1890; but that hasn’t happened. The city had balked at a part of the plan that would have seen it assume maintenance for the jetty following the fix, but in April 2019 said it would work with the USACE.  

According to Assistant Secretary of the Army R. D. James, who wrote to the advocacy group SOS Saco Bay in June, the city ultimately declined to support the USACE’s recommendation for a solution. 

“After further discussions, a final report was prepared in April 2019,” James wrote. “The city again declined to accept the recommendation. Accordingly, the USACE informed the city it had terminated further study efforts in January 2020.” 

With a new city administration, a spring session with congressional leaders and New England District of the Army Corps staff led to the potential for future engagement. 

On Monday Sept. 14, Councilor Lynn Copeland moved that the council send a letter to the USACE, outlining support for a Project Partnership Agreement. 

“This simply allows the parties to continue the conversation,” said Copeland. 

The proposal to send the letter had the support of about 150 members of SOS Saco Bay, and also by residents of nearby Kinney Shores, another Saco coastal community which has experienced erosion to its beach.

SOS Saco Bay President Kevin Roche wrote that the Project Partnership plan has been “on hold” for 13 years. 

“The time is now and (we’re) counting on the city to make this happen,” Roche wrote. 

Councilor Nathan Johnston said the council should have discussed the issue in a workshop prior to the scheduled vote. 

“Do we really believe the Army Corps will be open to negotiation, as they haven’t previously,” said Johnston. 

“All this does is to authorize the city administrator to get the conversation restarted,” said Councilor Alan Minthorn. “Let’s get the letter down there … and let them come forward with a new discussion. If we don’t do this, nothing starts.” 

  

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