The view of the ocean from the beach in Camp Ellis. The Saco Jetty can be seen in the background. PHOTO BY LIZ GOTTHELF

ME - Saco to enter agreement with Army Corps for $45M erosion mitigation project

The Saco City Council has directed the City Administrator to enter into a project partnership agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers for a $45 million project that will mitigate coastal erosion caused from the Saco Jetty.

The unanimous vote on Monday from the City Council received a loud round of applause from members of the audience.

“Thank you all for getting us to this historic moment in the City of Saco,” said Kevin Roche, president of local advocacy group Save Saco Shores, to the City Council.

The Saco Jetty is a highly visible structure – a long stretch of rocks that reaches out 6,600 feet into the Atlantic Ocean from the mouth of the Saco River. The jetty was built by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 1800s as part of a project to create a clear navigational path in the Saco River for ships traveling to the bustling mill communities of Saco and Biddeford. According to data from the Army Corps, there was an initial timber and stone jetty in the early 1800s, and reconstruction and extension of the jetty began in the 1860s. About 120,000 tons of rock was used to build the structure between 1867 and 1890, and more was used for repairs and modifications in the seven decades following completion.

While the jetty may have served its initial purpose, clearing a channel for commercial use of the Saco River, the benefit came at a cost. The Jetty has caused significant erosion along Camp Ellis and the stretch of Saco’s coastline by displacing wave energy and the natural movement of sand.

Coastal erosion has been a problem in Camp Ellis for a very long time – since the early 1900s, according to a public notice published by the Army Corps of Engineers in 2013. Since the mid-1900s, Camp Ellis, the coastal neighborhood adjacent to the jetty, has lost “over 30 buildings and residential structures, roadways, and public and private infrastructure,” according to the Army Corps publication.

In 2007, the federal government allocated $26.9 million for a project to mitigate erosion due to the jetty. The Army Corps researched possible solutions, but an agreement with the city and a project never came to fruition.

A few years ago, discussions between the City of Saco and the Army Corps of Engineers resumed with a new vigor, and additional federal funding was secured to accommodate the new $45 million price tag for a proposed project. On Monday, the City Council voted to enter a project partnership agreement, the agreement needed between the Army Corps and the city – the non-federal sponsor— for a project to take place.

The Army Corps project will construct a spur jetty of the side of the current jetty, which will extend 750 -feet into the ocean perpendicular, like an outstretched arm, from the main base of the jetty. After the construction is completed, sand will be shipped in to replenish the beach. The project also includes periodic beach renourishments of sand at “appropriate intervals” during the 50 years after construction is completed, according to the agreement. The City of Saco will be responsible for maintenance and repair of the jetty.

Councilor Michael Burman said that while Monday night's meeting wasn’t the last time the City Council would be working on issues related to coastal erosion, Monday’s vote was a really important next step.

“It’s been a long time coming. We’ve had decades and decades of inaction and stalling, and back and forth with the Army Corps and to be here tonight is an incredible step forward in protecting our shoreline, revitalizing the coast, protecting Camp Ellis, and really, moving Saco forward in the direction we want to go,” he said.

Mayor William Doyle thanked the city staff for their work that led to getting an agreement with the Army Corps, and he also thanked the residents of Camp Ellis, who have been on the frontline, watching houses get destroyed and the beach front shrink. Doyle, who was serving his last night as mayor, asked community members to continue to be vigilant and stay informed.

“It’s important to remember that this is the starting, this is not the ending,” said Doyle. “We’ve got more to do after this.”

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