2017-10-19 / Front Page

Saco officials still stymied by jetty erosion

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer

This photo from the Maine Geological Survey shows the level of erosion over the years. (Courtesy photo) This photo from the Maine Geological Survey shows the level of erosion over the years. (Courtesy photo) SACO – City officials have begun another round of discussions with the Army Corps of Engineers to address the erosion attributed to the Camp Ellis jetty, but help can’t come soon enough for beachside residents.

Mark Habel, of the Army Corps Navigation and Environmental Studies Section Planning Division, wrote in a Sept. 30 email to City Administrator Kevin Sutherland that the Saco-Camp Ellis report had been submitted to the Army Corps North Atlantic Division office in New York and will be reviewed by that office before being forwarded to Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C. Along with the report, city officials will be required to submit a letter of support and certification of financial capability for sand replenishment at Camp Ellis.

The Corps’ latest progress toward fixing the erosion at Camp Ellis follows a June meeting between Corps representatives and Saco city officials. Instead of filing the report under Section 111, the other option would be to prepare a Chief’s Report to Congress, which could be seen by the beginning of next year. Section 111 of the 1968 River and Harbor Act authorizes the Corps to work in areas damaged by past Corps projects. The Section 111 program would require a significant increase in funding from Congress.

“It’s either in front of Congress in February through the chief or Congress increases the amount from $27 million to $80 million,” Sutherland said. “What’s the likelihood that’s going to happen? Probably not very high.”

Sutherland gave a presentation about the change before the city council at a Tuesday, Oct. 10 workshop.

“At this point I looked to council for direction and their response was to continue working toward finding a solution with the attorney from D.C.,” he said.

City officials contacted a law firm in Washington, D.C. in September to help them in their discussions with corps. The city allocated $25,000 in the 2018 fiscal year budget for legal fees. Sutherland declined to provide the name of the firm.

The corps will also submit an application to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection under the Natural Resources Protection Act (NRPA). State officials will review the application to ensure the corps meets standards that safeguard existing coastal wetlands, sand dunes and wildlife habitat.

David Madore, director of communications for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, wrote in an email that the review and decision process could take up to 120 days. He indicated the processing period could also be extended and the corps’ application denied if the project cannot be modified to meet department standards.

“Once accepted for processing,” Madore wrote, “the NRPA application will go through an extensive review that includes several review agencies including Maine Geological Survey, Maine Department of Marine Resources and Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to assess environmental impacts including future erosions.”

In his email to Sutherland, Habel wrote the city has, “no cost-sharing requirement” for the Camp Ellis jetty project, however the city would be required to cover half the cost of all future beach replenishment. Sutherland estimated that could double what the city spends already on sand at Camp Ellis. He said the additional cost would likely come with an increase in property taxes.

“That’s sort of the unknown,” he said. “It concerned me about which direction to take. Unfortunately, it’s been 20-something years trying to get this done and here we are.”

Steve Coravos, who lives at 6 Surf St. and has paid property taxes in Saco for 40 years, said it’s unacceptable the problem has persisted as long as it has. He’s worried two more houses on Beacon Street could fall into the ocean this winter. That would be on top of the more than 30 families that have lost their homes so far according to the Corps’ draft report to Congress.

“It’s ludicrous it’s gone on this long,” Coravos said. “How could the state of Maine not see this has got to be corrected? The Army Corps caused massive erosion. It’s a man-made environmental disaster.”

In 2015, Coravos sent a letter to Gov. Paul LePage, Sen. Susan Collins and Sen. Angus King demanding lawmakers address the erosion at Camp Ellis. He said he didn’t receive anything that resembled a response aside from talking points he had heard before.

“We don’t need more studies,” he said. “Do something before other houses wash into the water. Anything is better than what they’ve done.”

While Sutherland is unsure exactly what will happen, he is keeping several options open for the city.

“We are still exploring legal action,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we’re taking it. One thing I will leave on the table is the federal government could buy the property if this doesn’t get resolved. They can use the money to pay the city for lost tax revenue.”

Coravos plans to be present for whatever is ultimately decided.

“I’m staying until the ocean takes my house,” he said.

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