2016-06-16 / Front Page

Saco might sue over Camp Ellis jetty, erosion issue

By Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer

SACO – City Councilors discussed the possibility of taking legal action against the Army Corps of Engineers at the council's workshop meeting Monday, June 13. Councilors expressed frustration with the Corps' lack of action to move forward on proposals to help prevent the beach erosion that the city has battled for decades.

In 2007, the U.S. Congress approved $26.9 million to modify the 7,000-foot Camp Ellis jetty that was built in the late 1880s to maintain river access and navigation, and has been modified three times – in1933, 1955 and 1968. However, the funds have yet to be allocated to the Army Corps of Engineers for the project.

According to documents provided by the Saco Shoreline Commission, the Corps has identified the jetty it built as the cause for beach erosion at Camp Ellis.

City officials have been working since the early 1990s to devise a solution to the ongoing erosion, which has resulted in the loss of 38 properties on 2,500 feet of beach – or a loss of $200,000 in property tax revenue annually.

“Over 10 years, that's $2 million. Every home lost is $6,000 lost,” said Mayor Roland Michaud. “I ran for office in 1993 with the hope of resolving this. We are a little bit further, at least (Army Corps of Engineers) know that they're the key players. We're just another (storm) away from a disaster. As a community, we need to be thinking, 'How do we deal with this and really get something down?’”

In addition to lost property tax revenue, Michaud said annual maintenance costs to hold back erosion cost the city approximately $100,000.

“That's $300,000 a year this is costing the city,” he said.

Two plans have been drafted to fix the problem. One plan, drafted by the Army Corps of Engineers, would build a 750-foot spur attached to the existing jetty, replenish up to 400,000 cubic yards of sand and cost $26.9 million. Another plan, preferred by the city, would build a 500-foot spur in the same location as the Corps’ plan, as well as two additional segmented spurs 300 feet long each. The city's plan was estimated in 2006 to cost $37 million.

Michaud said although the Corps drafted its plan, it was never approved by the national office and the city hasn't received an indication of any timeline for the plan's approval.

“The Army Corps has agreed that they are 100 percent responsible for what's going on down there,” said Saco Shoreline Commission Chairman Dean Coniaris. “What this means to Saco, we could lose up to 100 more homes, more tax revenue loss for the city of Saco forever. We have to ask the question: Can we be more aggressive?”

Ward 6 City Councilor Eric Cote said he favors the city exploring legal action against the Corps.

“There's no question they're responsible for the erosion on Ellis Island,” Cote said. “I think it's time to get a lawyer and sue them. The purpose of a lawsuit is to move something along.”

Ward 4 City Councilor Kevin Roche agreed with Cote and said the Army Corps of Engineers has been delaying moving the project. Roche also said a proposed partnership agreement by the Corps that would have held the city liable for the Corps' work, was unacceptable.

“The only way to get things done in this world is to either do it or threaten with legal action,” Roche said. “This is the year of action. I'm sick of the delays.

“With the partnership agreement, what that means is the Army Corps is trying to delay or scare us off. That we pay for or be liable for their work, that is unacceptable. It's their responsibility and their funds.”

Michaud agreed, saying, “What's troubling to me is asking us to guarantee their work and we know, as we said, that their work is not the best recommendation. What kind of company asks you to guarantee their work, which is what they're essentially asking with the partnership agreement?”

City Administrator Kevin Sutherland said beach erosion impacts the city further because property owners are deterred from developing the area.

“If it's safe, those valuations would rise. There's serious tax revenue if everything's stable down there and it's a destination,” Sutherland said.

Michaud said city staff would explore the possibilities and costs of taking legal action against the Corps.

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