South Portland officials said Thursday that the city plans to restore Willard Beach dunes that were washed away during a Dec. 23 storm that generated exceptionally high tides.

The city said in a release that the dunes protect wildlife habitat and public infrastructure, including the wastewater pipe that runs along the beach.

A fence that was part of the dune preservation efforts on Willard Beach in South Portland where erosion took place on Dec. 23. Photographed on Dec. 27. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The restoration plan calls for repurposing used Christmas trees and placing them into the dunes to trap blowing sand. The approach has been used successfully in other parts of the country to rebuild dunes, including in North Carolina and Alabama. South Portland’s project will serve as a pilot for Maine, but it must first be approved by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

Pending DEP approval, the Christmas trees collected by the city’s parks and recreation department will be lined up in rows to act as sand traps and block waves.

The trees could be placed as early as this month, but a small patch of dunes between Myrtle and Beach streets will be allowed to regenerate on their own. City officials estimate the project will cost around $20,000.

The restoration plan was developed by South Portland Parks, Recreation, and Waterfront staff in consultation with the Cumberland County Emergency Management Association, the Maine DEP, and the Maine Geological Survey.

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