The Working Waterfront

Saco Bay conference addressed timely concerns

Erosion, storm surge, dune restoration discussed

By Peter M. Hanrahan
Posted 2023-10-24
Last Modified 2023-10-24

More than 100 people attended the second annual SOS Saco Bay Coastal Conference on Sept. 27. The full day conference featured classroom sessions, a trade show, and outdoor field stations on the beach.

Save Our Shores Saco Bay, a non-profit advocacy group committed to the restoration and preservation of its shoreline and natural beauty, hosted the conference. Saco’s Camp Ellis beach has been seriously impacted by the installation of stone jetties at the mouth of the Saco River in the late 19th century, with 38 homes having been lost to coastal erosion.

Lori Gramlich, serving her third term in the Maine House of Representatives and chairing the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee, gave the keynote speech. A strong advocate for coastal protection, she resides in Old Orchard Beach.

Florida, highly vulnerable to flooding and coastal storms, has lost 44% of its wetlands since 1845.

Rep. Gramlich discussed an important bill that she sponsored recently, LD 498, “An Act to Improve Coastal Sand Dune Restoration Projects.” The bill was passed in both the House and Senate and was signed into law by Gov. Janet Mills in May.

The event featured a dedicated student track, and attracted delegations from the University of Southern Maine, Thornton Academy, the University of Rhode Island, Portland High School, and the University of New Hampshire. Instructors in that track included Holly Parker, director of the Schiller Coastal Studies Center at Bowdoin College; Abbie Sherwin of the Southern Maine Planning and Development Commission; Hannah Baranes of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute; Zach Lacasse of Everett J. Prescott, Inc.; and Nathan Robbins of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

Robbins discussed his work as a climate change specialist for the state, and his agency’s efforts to protect Maine’s coastline, which is threatened by rising seas, increasing storm surges, and coastal flooding.

In the main session, consulting engineer Anders Bjangard, principal at GZA Geoenvironmental of Amesbury, Mass., provided an overview of his work confronting accelerated shoreline erosion at Plum Island in Newburyport, Mass.

Cassie Bethony, a design consultant with the Weston and Samson Design Studio of Boston, led a discussion titled “Protecting Critical Infrastructure at Prescott Park in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.” Her work involved protection and raising coastal infrastructure on the waterfront of that city. In August of last year, that project was featured in Stormwater magazine in an article titled “Times Change, Designs Adapt.”

Marybeth Richardson is Southern Maine office director for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, and provided an overview of regulatory issues relative to coastal protection.

Alison McKellar, vice chair of the Camden Select Board, reviewed the loss of private structures and loss of public access in Camden Harbor. This of course is a threat that is being taken seriously by communities along the Maine coast.

Another speaker, Rachel Stearns of the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Wells, detailed the restoration work her agency is doing to protect salt marshes in coastal zones. Coastal wetlands, vitally important for both habitat and coastal flood protection, have been devastated by development all over the U.S. For example, Florida, highly vulnerable to flooding and coastal storms, has lost 44% of its wetlands since 1845.

David Plavin, vice president of SOS Saco Bay, was heavily involved in the planning and execution of the conference.

“These issues are so important and we are trying to provide a forum to exchange ideas and educate,” he said.

Planning is already under way for the 3rd Annual SOS Saco Bay Coastal Conference for the early fall of next year.

Peter M. Hanrahan of Topsham is a consultant who worked with SOS Saco Bay to plan the event. Hanrahan has worked on coastal training events since 2008 and organized events in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine. His firm is Hanrahan Environmental, LLC, and he may be reached at