A man walks along North Avenue in Camp Ellis as waves crash over the Jersey barriers Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021. The Saco Bay Symposium met online Friday to hear an update about the city’s effort to reengage the US Army Corps of Engineers in a bid to solve erosion issues and hear about other Saco bay issues and possible solutions. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald

SACO — The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers has let the City of Saco know it wants more specifics about its proposed role in a partnership it seeks with the USACE to remedy erosion issues in the Camp Ellis area of the city.

Camp Ellis has taken a pounding over the years — in all, 38 homes have been lost to the sea, due, many believe, to the stone jetty placed by the USACE 154 years ago.

On Sept. 14, the Saco City Council unanimously voted to send a letter to the USACE outlining the city’s desire to enter into a Project Partnership Agreement with the corps to solve the erosion issue, a necessary step before the federal agency could move forward with a project to modify the jetty and renourish the beach.

City Administrator Bryan Kaenrath, city leaders, local members of the Maine Legislature and a number of associated parties — from SOS Saco Bay to the Maine Geological Survey and staffers representing members of the Maine Congressional delegation — came together online Friday for the Saco Bay Symposium to talk about those issues and others that relate to the bay.

The city has a long relationship of “fits and starts” with the USACE, but in 2020 decided to try to restart the conversation, said Kaenrath.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had earlier proposed construction of a 750-foot spur to the existing jetty at the Camp Ellis beach, which was built in 1867 and expanded in 1890. The city had balked at a part of the plan that would have it assume maintenance for the jetty following the fix.

Attendees of the Saco Bay Symposium, held online Friday, heard a presentation by Living Shoreline Solutions, Inc., about how a system they’ve designed can help communities protect shorelines. Tammy Wells Photo

The specifics sought by the USACE include affirmation that the sponsor — the city — understands its roles and responsibilities that includes paying costs above the $26.9 million limit set by the U.S Congress in 2007; along with maintenance and repair.

“We’ll have a revised latter on April 5. I hope for a positive outcome, but these are some of the sticking points we have had in the past,” Kaenrath told the symposium attendees, who met online.

He said the USACE will have to ask that the project be initiated, for funds to update the plan, and other details.

State Rep. Lynn Copeland said the USACE had said they needed a nonfederal sponsor and so has submitted a bill that would make the state the sponsor, thus relieving Saco taxpayers. She said the bill can be changed, if the USACE doesn’t permit the state to sponsor such projects. As of that day, Friday, March 26, the bill hadn’t been sent to a legislative committee, she said.

“We are all in and committed, we really want to see rubber hit the road sometime in the near future,” said Kaenrath, who also left the door open to explore other remedies.

One possibility was presented by a company called Living Shoreline Solutions, Inc. which uses a series of hollow concrete pyramids called Wave Attenuation Devices for shoreline restoration, sand dune restoration, on and off shore infrastructure protection and protection of barrier reefs, among other marine related services. Over the past 24 years, the company has built site specific models that disperse the wave action through a series of holes in the pyramids, said company President Scott Barkowski.

Kevin Roche of SOS Saco Bay said as the USACE takes another look at costs, “we want to be ready to show them living shorelines can replace the parallel jetty.” He said SOS Saco Bay doesn’t want to hold up the Project Partnership Agreement, but if the corps is looking at costs, “in the wait time we’ll be talking about this.”

The group also mulled the prospects of a regional dredge, a prospect first raised by Southern Maine Planning and Development Commission in 2017.

Mayor William Doyle said York County, “and all of Maine, really” needs to look at an ongoing dredge program for the waterways, to combat beach erosion.

The USACE dredges some coastal areas, but not as often as some communities would like.

State Sen. Donna Bailey suggested that with counties receiving a substantial infusion of cash from the federal American Rescue Plan, it may be an opportune time to pursue a dredge project at the county level.

“They may have funds to handle that,” she said, suggesting a conversation with York County Commissioners.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: