by P.J. Lassek
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wants public input on its long-awaited proposal to mitigate a century of devastating erosion along the Camp Ellis shoreline in Saco.
Meanwhile, Saco officials say residents need to be aware of the adverse impact of the project’s sand hauling phase and the city’s need for a dune master plan.
The Saco Bay beaches, especially Camp Ellis Beach, have fallen victim to powerful nor’easters and the placement of the north jetty at the mouth of Saco River, which prevents the natural nourishment along the shoreline.
Last Friday, the corps released a draft of a feasibility study and environment assessment of a project that it believes would stabilize the shoreline at Camp Ellis. Public comment on the proposal will be accepted up until May 28.
The draft project proposes to reinforce about 400 feet of the north jetty at Camp Ellis, attach a 750-foot perpendicular stone spur to the jetty about 1,475 feet from the shoreline, truck in 365,000 cubic yards of sand to Camp Ellis Beach, and have beach re-nourishment about every 12 years.
Public hearing needed
Saco Administrator Richard Michaud told the Saco Shoreline Commission at its April meeting at Ferry Beach Park Association that he fears the Army Corps project could get derailed by upset residents before it ever gets started.
Michaud said the city wants the Army Corps to hold a formal public hearing to fully inform residents along the sand truck delivery route what to expect.
“We are talking tandem-axel dump trucks coming every 5 minutes, 24-hours-a-day, for three solid months,” Michaud said.
The Army Corps plans to use 860 18-wheelers to haul nearly 400,000 cubic yards of sand during the winter when the roads are “solidly frozen” so there is no road damage, he said noting the Army Corps has no funds for road repairs.
“I have this picture of tandem- or tri-axel dump trucks coming down the street, backing into some kind of temporary structure and then dumping the sand with back-up alarms beeping all night long for the entire winter. That’s quite a picture,” he said.
Michaud said if the residents around the truck route object, there is a potential for the project to die or be shelved for who knows how long.
“What the Army Corps has put on the table for the project is the project,” Michaud said. “We’re going forward with this project, or we’re not.”
He said he is afraid that if the corps is sent away to rework the plan by upset residents there is “a real risk that it just goes into a file and they work on something else,” or the project gets entangled in lawsuits by angry residents.
Michaud said there has been 29-plus alternatives studied, and that the proposed project has been in the works for at least 14 years.
“The Army Corps is ready to move and we need to be ready,” Michaud said.
Dune design master plan
All of the sand for the proposed project will be applied only to public property and at this time, “they’re not willing to tell us what that means” or how much of private beach shore will be taken for the project, he said.
The city is prohibited from spending tax dollars on repairing private beach dunes, a vital measure to help battle the loss of property and structures.
The private property along the shoreline varies as to whether it ends at the dunes or low tide.
The Shoreline Commission plans to request that the Saco City Council engage a consultant to design a dune master plan for the Saco Bay beaches up to Bay View.
The plan would be for the expert to zone the shoreline into three categories – immediate risk of property structures; future risk, but not imminent; and no risk. The zones would be mapped, master dune design created, and permitting instructions provided with the goal of informing property owners on how to address dune restoration in a planned fashion that best protect properties.
Michaud said it is important that property owners work together when they repair their dunes.
“You can’t have holes in the dunes” and it be successful, Michaud said.
If the council approves such a request by the Shoreline Commission, the Army Corps has agreed to help the city design a dune plan, which would follow its project design, he said.North jetty culprit
The debate over the decision to build and then decades later enlarge the north jetty still rages on with critics citing many sources including the lack of understanding coastal processes, sediment dynamics, and misguided policy initiatives, according to a Geological Society of America report by Joseph Kelley and Laura Brothers.
Ultimately, the jetty, part of the Saco River Federal Navigation Project, has restricted the primary direction of sediment source along the shoreline of the Saco Bay beaches.
Over the past 50 years erosion intensified resulting in the loss of more than 30 buildings, residential structures, roadways, and public and private infrastructure, U.S. Army Corps’ New England District Project Manager Richard Heidebrecht said.
In 2009, $27 million was released from the Water Resources and Development Act for the design and implementation of Camp Ellis Beach Restoration project.
Draft details about the project are available at www.nae.usace.army.mil/Missions/ProjectsTopics/CampEllis.aspx
Public comment on the Army Corps project should be forwarded to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New England District, Engineering and Planning Division, Attn: Richard Heidebrecht, 696 Virginia Rd, Concord, MA, 01742-2751 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org