Congress Debates Funding to Slow Beach Erosion in Saco, Maine

For years beach erosion has been claiming homes in the area, but if the funding comes through it could be put toward correcting construction on a jetty put in decades ago

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It could be the beginning of the end of homes being washed into the ocean in the Camp Ellis neighborhood of Saco, Maine.

For decades, property damage has been a major concern because of intense shore erosion, with approximately 38 homes lost over time.

The source of the problem is a 150-year-old jetty built by the United States Army Corps of Engineers that was made larger in the 1950s.

It has shifted ocean currents in the area of the Saco River and Camp Ellis Beach and affected where the sand ends up.

However, Maine lawmakers like Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat, say a solution may lie in $45 million of federal funding that is part of this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), an annual defense budget bill that is working its way through Congress.

The money would be used to build a new 750-foot jetty and restore 365,000 cubic yards of beach.

On Thursday, the NDAA successfully passed the U.S. House, but it still needs approval from the Senate and President Joe Biden.

"It’s a big deal," said David Plavin, a Camp Ellis homeowner who is also the vice president of a group called SOS Saco Bay, a nonprofit organization that has been advocating to stop the erosion problem.

After years of trying to raise awareness of the problem, Plavin believes the process is now "moving in the right direction."

Both Pingree and Saco leaders agree.

"To finally have a commitment from the Army Corps to spend sufficient funds is a very exciting thing," said Pingree in an interview with NBC affiliate NEWS CENTER Maine.

"It’s something I’ve worked on ever since I got to Congress," she added.

"We’ve literally had houses washed into the ocean, and to be able to put a stop to that is going to be huge," said Bryan Kaenrath, city administrator for the City of Saco.

During her interview, Pingree also said that she expected the Senate to vote on the bill next week and that the bill could be signed as soon as Christmas.

For Plavin, there is hope that the funding will end years of frustration and concern, though until the bill passes, some unease remains.

"We’re moving faster and closer to a solution than ever, but there’s still anxiety for sure," he said.

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