A portion of Willard Beach in South Portland.  Maxen Ryder

The city of South Portland has plans in place to restore the majority of the dunes between Willard Beach and Myrtle Avenue that were washed out by the storm on Dec. 23. The dunes protect important public infrastructure as well as provide wildlife habitat.

“What we’re trying to protect is infrastructure that we have in two portions of that dune system,” said South Portland Conservation Manager Kristina Ertzner. “We have a sewer force main that runs through there that had a blowout in 2021. And it suffered some dune damage when that blew out, then more of that washed out with this storm in December of ’22. So what we’re really focusing on is protecting our infrastructure so any future storms don’t cause a blowout or a problem with that sewer system.”

The restoration plan is being developed by South Portland Parks, Recreation, and Waterfront with consultation from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Cumberland County Emergency Manager Association, and the Maine Geological Survey.

The plan is to reuse Christmas trees and set them up within the dunes to create a sand trap to help rebuild the dunes. The technique has seen success in parts of the country for decades, such as in Alabama and North Carolina. The city is waiting approval from DEP to begin the project.

“DEP could change things that we have in that permit, they could deny the permit, we don’t really know what’s going to happen,” Ertzner said. “What’s planned right now is to put roughly 165 Christmas trees, lay them down in the dunes, kind of put them in lines and tow them into each other, and let the sand over the next couple of months blow up over them and cover them completely. It’s the hope so that we can build the dunes vertical.”

The plan could still change depending on the decision of Maine’s DEP.


“It’s in DEP’s hands kind of, we’re waiting to hear back from them,” Ertzner said. “They could just ask us to alter the permit a little bit, they could have meetings and decide maybe this isn’t a good fit for Maine.”

South Portland has begun collecting used Christmas trees for the project, assuming its approval by Maine DEP. The city plans to restore the dune grass once the sand is in place.

The project is estimated to cost about $20,000.

Excepted from the project is a small area of dunes between Myrtle Avenue and Beach Street on Willard Beach. The area that would be protected by dunes is privately owned, and Maine’s Constitution does not allow the city to use public funds for the private section.  Despite that, dune regeneration is expected to happen on its own in the area due to existing rooted dune grass. However, the city is open to partnering with private groups and citizens to fund restoration efforts in this area, according to a press release.

“We’re grateful to the many experts who helped craft this plan and all those who expressed concern about the dunes in the aftermath of the storm,” said South Portland Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Director Karl Coughlin. “It’s clear that our beach is treasured, and we look forward to getting going on our plan to bring back the dunes.”

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