2017-09-21 / Front Page

Saco allocates money for lawsuit

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer

SACO – City officials have begun conversations with a Washington, D.C., law firm to help convince the Army Corps of Engineers to address Camp Ellis erosion issues caused by the jetty. The city has allocated $25,000 in the 2018 fiscal year budget for legal fees on the matter.

The Army Corps of Engineers has admitted the jetty it built on the south shore of Camp Ellis is responsible for erosion of neighboring beaches and in 2007, Congress approved $26.9 million to rehabilitate the beach. A 2013 report from the New England District of the Army Corps of Engineers recommended another 750-foot jetty be built extending north form the existing jetty, which the corps estimated would cost roughly $31 million. That would be coupled with periodic sand replenishments at a cost of $48 million over the next 50 years. Since the project cost is greater than what Congress approved in 2007, the New England District of the Corps will have to decide if they want to request more funding.

The city hopes an attorney can eventually present a case in front of the Corps to encourage progress on the situation. If nothing comes from the attorney’s report to the corps, the city would then discuss whether or not it would sue.

Ward 4 Councilor Kevin Roche feels the city has few options at this point. He said it is unlikely Congress would approve the nearly $80 million project or give the city of Saco the $26.9 million that has already been approved. Roche described the situation as a “federal bureaucracy nightmare.”

“It’s the perfect story of government gone amok just wasting people’s time and effort,” he said.

Roche is still frustrated that the corps admitted fault for the disappearing beaches, but have yet to commit to a solution for the more than 100-year-old jetty. The Corps detailed the jetty’s role in erosion in its 2013 report.

“It’s laughable if it wasn’t so serious,” Roche said.

Tim Dugan, of the Army Corps of Engineers New England District public affairs office, said the Corps’ 2013 report was part of Section 111 of the River and Harbor Act of 1968, which states a corps navigation project “has contributed to erosion problems on adjacent shorelines.” The 2013 report states 360,000 cubic yards of sand would be placed along 3,250 feet of beach north of the jetty. The beach would require another 160,000 cubic yards of sand every 12 years.

“The New England District is currently in discussions with its higher headquarters to determine the best way to proceed, which will likely involve preparation of a Chief of Engineer’s report to Congress,” Dugan wrote.

The corps did not know when a report to Congress might take place.

In the meantime, the corps still plans to begin the Saco River dredge this November. Sand from the November 2018 dredge is expected to be used at Camp Ellis. The sand for this year’s dredge will be placed in a narrow gully in the river, near the University of New England.

Saco Shoreline Commission Chair Philip Blood said many in the city are frustrated, but as a small state Maine can’t put the same amount of pressure on Congress that others can. However, he hates to see people in fear of losing their homes because of politics.

“We lost 38 homes at this point,” Blood said. “The projection over the next 50 years is another 105. There’s no conclusion on what’s best. We’re trying to figure out all the options and leave everything open.”

Roche said the erosion issue will affect everyone in Saco, not just beach goers. Beachfront properties are a valuable asset for the city, aside from the environmental concerns. The loss of property taxes would have to be made up by the rest of Saco’s residents.

“We want our sand back,” Roche said.

Contact Staff Writer Grant McPherson at news@inthecourier.com

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