Tours show that coast continues to change

By Summer Dorr
Contributing Writer (Mainely Media LLC)

SACO – Maine Sea Grant held its second “Resilient Coast Tour” meeting in Saco, traveling to properties in Wells, Kennebunk and Old Orchard Beach for an event that lasted from 9 a.m. to nearly 5 p.m.


The main intent of the day’s gathering Saturday, June 29, was so people could learn strategies to safeguard properties from nature’s effects, such as flooding and erosion.

“We get a lot of sea spray” from passing storms, said Bill Riggs of Biddeford.

Waves move rocks and erode dirt on the north side of his property, Riggs said. The ocean is 30 feet away and 20 feet down from his house. At high tide, tail ends of waves lap his property, causing the banking to erode, Riggs said. He feels his house is at risk of eventually washing away. Riggs talked of climate warming and sea level rising.

Riggs said he needed to pay about $1,000 to repair the banking with dirt and rocks after the Patriot’s Day Storm in 2007. Since then, “We’ve been more alert to the potentiality of damage,” he said.

Riggs was on Saturday’s tour to get ideas on how he can stabilize the slope.

Fourteen participated in the tour, although the crowd size was hoped to be nearer 24, said Kristen Grant, a marine extension associate with Maine Sea Grant and University of Maine Cooperative Extension. The previous tour in 2011 visited properties in Camp Ellis and Biddeford, among others.

Property owners and professionals on the tour gave examples of situations and showed measures taken. Tour participants learned adaptive action and preventative measures. Strategies included elevating near-beach homes, moving homes farther back, along with changing outside slopes and restoring dunes.

Riggs received contact information, on the tour, to potentially aid his dilemma.

“Property owners learn from each other,” Grant said, regarding the field trip. “This is that chance in a small setting.”

Susanne Schaller, a wetlands and wildlife biologist, spoke on the tour, and also has worked to help restore the Old Orchard Beach dunes following the Patriot’s Day Storm. The dune grass, as observed Saturday, has filled in full. Credited, in part, to the aid of seaweed, rain and fewer people walking on it, Schaller said.

“We’re going to be in the ocean,” said John Chandler, of Biddeford Pool, about his house. “We’re worried about our home being underwater.”

Chandler said entire beach remediation is needed to prevent his house from being partially immersed in seawater within 40 years.

He faults sea walls put up by neighbors as part of his property’s erosion.

“People shouldn’t be allowed to have them. People should take them down.”

No one from the Biddeford mayor’s or code enforcement office could be reached for comment regarding sea walls.

Chandler said a wave’s force hits the seawalls and takes the sand with it. With the numerous seawalls still standing, any individual remediation efforts won’t work, as the sand will be washed away, he said.


Chandler, after the tour, cited Old Orchard Beach’s growing sand dunes, covered with dune grass, and without sea walls, as an effective example of what he hopes could occur in his neighborhood.

Fred Kennedy and his wife Anne Kennedy own the Alouette, on 91 East Grand Ave. in Old Orchard Beach, which was on Saturday’s tour.

The Alouette Suites is an eco-friendly beach resort that had its first customer about three weeks ago, Fred Kennedy said. It’s a 10,000-square-foot “frontal dune” property built on piers (about 5 feet above ground), which allows “for natural movement of the dune,” Kennedy said.

That is, the dune can move freely under the building without disturbing the structure. Before its construction there were three 1950s bungalow-type buildings and a retaining wall. Alouette Suites is farther back than those properties were, the retaining wall was taken down, and impermeable (“black top”) ground was removed. Dune grass and indigenous plants line the building’s beachside.

While property owners are the “key audience” for these tours, Grant encourages municipal officials, real estate agents, engineers and contractors to attend as well. The Sea Grant tours are intended to become an annual event, she said.

A Maine Beaches Conference for Friday, July 12 in South Portland includes talk of “Approaches for Coastal Erosion Control.” It’s scheduled from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and more information can be found at conference.

David Arenstam

About David Arenstam

Originally from away, but here to stay - Maine is my home and I love writing stories about the people and places from my end of the state. I am a teacher and writer and my first novel, "Homecoming: A Soldier's Story of Loyalty, Courage, and Redemption" is available now at