By Ramona du Houx
Maine State Rep. Lynn Copeland, D-Saco, introduced a bill that, if passed into law, would sign Maine onto the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ shore damage mitigation project. The measure had its public hearing before the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee on Monday.
“We have lost 38 homes. At a total value, the value of the homes has been over $5 million, the taxable valuation for the city of Saco has been over $3.2 million,” said Saco Mayor William Doyle during the public hearing. “That’s the amount of money we have lost in valuation from those 38 homes. In addition, the total infrastructure costs, up to 2020, was over $9 million that we spent in infrastructure and repair costs.”
In 1867, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed a stone jetty at Camp Ellis. Since then, the jetty has altered wave action, current patterns and sand deposits and is the primary cause of erosion in Camp Ellis and the greater Saco Bay shoreline.
“The erosion has clearly had an economic impact on the city of Saco and the State of Maine in terms of revenue from tax rolls and vacationers, as well as beach loss at Ferry Beach State Park. But there are other losses, too,” said Rep. Copeland. “The loss of beach and vegetation on our shoreline has put animal habitats at risk. The piping plover, a small shorebird and federally classified threatened species, is at serious risk with the eroding of our sandy beaches.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has accepted responsibility for the erosion-causing jetty design and the city of Saco has negotiated with them over decades to reach a plan of action. According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, because this project would exceed the $10 million statutory cap under Section 111 of the River and Harbor Act of 1968, Congress provided specific authority in the Water Resources Development Act of 2007 to exceed this limitation. This legislation authorized a maximum federal expenditure of $26.9 million for work under Section 111 at Camp Ellis. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requires a non-federal sponsor be responsible for any costs that rise above the $26.9 million allocated by Congress.
“This is not just a Saco problem, and our taxpayers cannot afford to be on the hook for this project,” said Copeland. “Our neighboring coastal communities of Biddeford, Old Orchard Beach and Scarborough have all been impacted by the erosion caused by the jetty and will continue to be until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is able to fix the problem. This is a regional issue, and the state’s support of this project is truly needed.”
Cosponsors of the measure include Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, Sens. Donna Bailey and Susan Deschambault, both D-York, Rep. Lydia Blume, D-York, Rep. Lori Gramlich, D-Old Orchard Beach, Rep. Maggie O’Neil, D-Saco, Rep. Erin Sheehan, D-Biddeford, and Rep. Sophie Warren, I-Scarborough.
“I’ve heard from people all over my district, for years, about how concerned they are about erosion at Camp Ellis Beach, and it’s an issue I’ve devoted much time and work to,” said Sen. Donna Bailey. “This is a critical issue for so many people who live, work and recreate in Saco and up and down the Saco Bay area. I’m glad Rep. Copeland has brought this bill forward. I have real hope that it will be another step in the right direction to finally address this problem.”
The committee will hold a work session on LD 946 in the coming weeks.
Copeland is serving her first term in the Maine House and represents House District 14, which includes downtown and coastal Saco. She is a former member of the Saco City Council, where she worked for years on the issue of shoreline damage. Copeland is a member of the State and Local Government Committee.