2018-03-29 / Editorial

Demand action for Camp Ellis, Saco

Beyond the Headlines
by Sen. Justin Chenette

The science is clear. Global climate change is real and is already impacting our coastal communities and industries in very real ways. The severity of storms has increased and Mother Nature’s fury is being felt up and down Maine’s pristine coastline. Those that live at the ocean’s edge have to and should be worried about the future of their property line ever receding.

Those of us in the Legislature have tried to take steps to preempt and protect communities directly impacted. A few years back I co-sponsored legislation to continue studying the impact of climate change as it relates to our industries and help with emergency preparedness of flooding at the municipal level. Currently, there is a bill before us to create a coastal erosion and mitigation commission to monitor, study and report on recommendations for immediate action.

For the families that live in Camp Ellis, however, the issue of erosion has been accelerated and exacerbated by a manmade structure that was first created back in the 1800s. Since then this U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ project has significantly contributed to the loss of homes, properties, roads and more in this particular stretch of the city of Saco. Originally, the jetty was built to ease shipping in and out of the Saco River. An unintended result has been the displacement of sand, completely disrupting the natural flow, causing erosion for some, flooding for others, and the entire region including Old Orchard Beach and Ocean Park feeling it’s negative effects.

For years, I’ve heard the same excuses. “We’re waiting on the federal government” seems to be a common refrain. My question is how much longer can we afford to wait? How many more homes have to be swallowed up by the ocean before something is done? How many more streets wiped off the map? Inaction is not an acceptable solution. People are losing their homes, their livelihoods and their way of life all because of a manmade, self-created issue that the federal government is directly responsible for.

I know many folks are rightfully skeptical about trusting any solution from the same people that created the issue to begin with. I too share those concerns, but this to me is more about who is financing the fix, rather than the fix itself. The Army Corps has admitted they are at fault. Their jetty created the dangerous situation we are currently in. Therefore, they need to be the ones to pay up. They need to take responsibility. Their new plan has already been created and approved. It would entail constructing a new 750-foot spur jetty with ongoing beach nourishment over the lifespan of the project, which they say would be 50 years.

Meanwhile, the city, including public works has tried their best to Bandaid the situation. Last November, voters approved a bond for $200,000 to help with prevention efforts. They’ve also replenished parts of the beach with sand and helped with strengthening the sand dunes.

It’s time our congressional delegation really fights for us. We need Sen. Susan Collins, Sen. Angus King and Rep. Chellie Pingree to get their congressional colleagues to appropriate the necessary funds and begin work. In an attempt to ensure Camp Ellis isn’t ignored and that it’s made a priority, Rep. Donna Bailey and I have filed an emergency resolution demanding action from Congress. This is something that hasn’t been tried before, so it’s worth a shot. Our resolution first heads to the desk of the Senate president and the speaker of the House. They and they alone will determine its fate. From there it will be voted on by the House and Senate. We must keep this issue in the news, in the headlines, on the forefront of discussions. We must keep the pressure on Congress. Having the state officially make a request, is one way to do just that.

Undoubtedly, there will be more and more issues of homes being taken by the rising sea levels, but that doesn’t mean we abandon our residents. I can’t imagine if it was my own home in critical danger, how I would feel if my own neighbors didn’t want to help. That’s not a sense of community. That’s not our community. This may not be the be an end all solution. There is no magic wand, but I won’t sit by and do nothing when our friends, family and neighbors are in need. I know there will be disagreements on the remedy but let us be united in our collective mission of getting the Feds to pay for it. We send our hard-earned tax dollars down to D.C. It’s time we get some of it back.

Justin Chenette is serving his first term as the youngest senator in the Maine Senate representing Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Hollis, Limington and Buxton. He previously served two terms in the Maine House of Representatives. Outside the Legislature, he is the owner of Chenette Media LLC, a marketing & public relations firm, works as the marketing coordinator of Saco Sport & Fitness, and is the president of Saco Main Street. Sign up for legislative updates at www.justinchenette.com or follow updates at www.Facebook.com/JustinChenette.

Return to top