The Spurwink Marsh section of Sawyer Road/Street in Cape Elizabeth and Scarborough is pictured here in the aftermath of a storm Jan. 10. A car on the road was swept into the marsh during that storm. Contributed / Matt Craig

Work could begin this spring to prepare for the removal of an environmentally hazardous road between Cape Elizabeth and Scarborough.

Called Sawyer Road in Cape Elizabeth and Sawyer Street across the town line in Scarborough, the roadway cuts through the Spurwink Marsh and routinely floods during major storms. The road also restricts water flow in the marsh, which has resulted in habitat loss, town officials say.

Plans are in the works to remove the stretch of Sawyer Road/Street where it crosses the Spurwink Marsh between Cape Elizabeth and Scarborough. Contributed / Town of Scarborough

The road stretches from Route 77 in Scarborough through Cape Elizabeth and into South Portland. Plans call for a 1,400-foot portion of the road that goes through the marsh to be removed. The road would dead-end on each side. With nearly $1.6 million of the roughly $2 million project covered by grant money, the work will cost each town $185,000.

If approved and all goes according to schedule, the roadway will be removed in two phases between December 2026 and April 2027.

“There’s two years worth of pre-work before the actual removal happens,” Cape Elizabeth Town Planner Maureen O’Meara said at a joint meeting last week of the Cape Elizabeth and Scarborough town councils.

That work includes an environmental assessment and modeling of the marsh this spring and summer, planning for marsh restoration next winter and implementing those restoration plans between December 2025 and April 2026.


The culvert under the road is “constraining natural tidal flows,” O’Meara said, and it is causing erosion and harming habitats.

“The tidal constriction has made water sit on the marsh longer than it otherwise would have, and it’s killed the vegetation and sunken the floor of the marsh,” she said.

Discussions about the roadway and potential problems began with a sea level rise study conducted by Cape Elizabeth in 2015. More assessments and work on the culvert took place in 2019, followed by a joint council workshop on further solutions in 2022. Last year, the towns applied for grant funding through the Maine Natural Resource Conservation Program.

The towns were notified in late 2023 that they had been awarded the grant. The contract from the state will be issued in March.

Councilors were surprised by how quickly things have accelerated.

“It does seem like everything’s happening faster than anyone anticipated,” said Scarborough Town Councilor Don Hamill.


Before the project can begin, the two councils need to formally accept the grant. In addition, while Cape Elizabeth has already authorized its $185,000 share of the bill, Scarborough has greenlit only $35,000 for the project so far and will have to approve the additional $150,000 to set things in motion.

While the roadway is a convenient route for some Cape Elizabeth and Scarborough residents, town staff said traffic studies in 2022 indicate it is less popular than other connecting roads between the two towns. Councilors of both towns noted, however, that the road attracts birdwatchers and nature lovers because of its great views of Spurwink Marsh.

Cape Elizabeth Town Councilor Jeremy Gabrielson said a restoration project that includes removing 1,400 feet of roadway and years of assessing, planning and executing restoration plans is significant on a national scale.

“As part of my day job, I work for a land trust that does a lot of work with land protection and tidal restoration projects,” Gabrielson said, noting he isn’t involved in the Sawyer project. “For the folks who are involved in marsh restoration, this is a very exciting project.”

Building a causeway to raise the road, which would be the most sustainable and environmentally friendly way to solve the problems, town staff said, would last 50 to 100 years, but could cost as much as $20 million.

“If the town of Scarborough had $10 million to invest in roads; if the town of Cape Elizabeth had $10 million to invest in roads,” O’Meara said, “is this where you would do it?”

Councilors generally agreed the road removal makes the most sense financially and praised its benefits to the environment. However, they said residents’ feedback is important before making a final decision, and with their tight timeframe public hearings ought to begin swiftly.

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