YORK, Maine — The Maine Department of Environmental Protection recently sent the town a draft monitoring plan for the stepped seawall at Long Sands Beach — a key piece before a permit can be issued. But until the permit is in hand, seawall and sidewalk work remains unfinished — particularly noticeable at the south end of the beach.
This latest move toward a permit could be the beginning of the end of a year-long dispute between the town and the department over the seawall design. The town had started constructing the new stepped wall by the bathhouse in spring 2018, but the environmental department issued a notice of violation the following June. This required the town to apply for an after-the-fact permit in August 2018, which has still not been granted.
This summer, Public Works Director Dean Lessard said, the Department of Public Works has had to put orange barrels up along the southern end of the beach by Long Sands Road to allow for pedestrians to walk. The seawall that will be built along that stretch will act as the foundation for the sidewalk that will be installed at the same time.
“As soon as the permit is issued, we’re ready to start work,” he said.
There is also a section of the sidewalk just to the north of the bathhouse that remains uncompleted, and that, too, is because the seawall needs to be built in that vicinity. To finish the sidewalk before the slopes of the wall are known does not make sense, he said.
At issue with the seawall is the town’s commitment to ensuring infrastructure such as Long Beach Avenue and houses on the west side are preserved from the worst of the storm conditions. At the same time, Lessard said, the stepped design allows the ferocity of a wave to dissipate before it turns back on itself. The environmental department is concerned with beach erosion and expressed concern about assumptions and limitations with the modeling the town used.
Work came to a standstill in February when the department’s commissioner, Gerald Reid, told the town to stop all work.
Since then, the town and state have been working to develop a monitoring program that will be integrated as a condition of the permit. Lessard said the monitoring is intended to “see how the beach is performing so we can get a better understanding” of how the stepped wall works. He said the town and state are on their second or third iteration of a proposal.
The most recent draft, sent to the town from the Department of Environmental Protection on Friday, allows the town to “reconfigure an existing 4,100-foot-long, sloped seawall along Long Sands Beach with a stepped design.” As a condition, the town is to undertake seasonal surveys of beach elevations at various intervals along the beach each spring and fall, which will be compared to a baseline digital elevation model.
If the survey results for two consecutive seasons show a beach profile lower than the baseline profile, the town has to collect more data and let the department know the initial and subsequent results. If the stepped seawall is causing more erosion than the old seawall, the “impacts will be mitigated by the town through beach nourishment [replenishment].” Exemptions will be made for large storm events or abnormally high sea level.
“The plan continues to take shape with the continued input from both the town and the Maine Geological Survey,” the department’s communications director, David Madore, said.
“I wish I had a crystal ball every day,” Lessard said when asked when the permit might be issued. “But we’re going to get it done. We’re not going anywhere. It’s hard for them not to issue the permit, unless they show us what we’re doing is damaging. The damage is happening because the sea is rising.”
He said while it’s true the town has a mission to protect the road and property owners, “the environment is also important to us. It’s our beach. So you try to balance everything.”