2017-10-06 / Front Page

Middle Beach sea wall ‘wiggles’

Emergency repairs needed at Middle Beach
By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — After several weeks of nervous oversight, Kennebunk has been forced to make emergency repairs to the sea wall at Middle Beach.

Town engineer Chris Osterrieder did not have an exact estimate on the quick fix when reporting on the issue at the Sept. 26 selectmen’s meeting, but said job ran “in the $40,000 to $50,000 range.”

The money came from the board of selectmen’s contingency fund.

According to Osterrieder, material at the base of an 80-foot-long section of wall at the corner of Boothby Road and Beach Avenue, “where we always get hit,” washed away due to wave action in the wake of offshore Hurricane Jose.

That allowed some of the stone material, known as revetment, to wash away, exposing the metal sheeting beneath the wall. Once that happened the wall began to rotate, shifting about a foot.

“An analogy would be to think of it as a tooth without a gum — the tooth did start to wiggle,” Osterrieder said.

Osterrieder first noticed the problem in the form of a sinkhole on Sept. 12 and immediately raised the issue with selectmen, making repairs Sept. 15. But by month’s end, as Hurricane Jose sent a surge crashing to shore, it was clear more extensive emergency repairs needed to be made. The work was done between Sept. 22-24.

“The good news is, while there is one crack in the wall, it has not moved, it has not buckled since,” Osterrieder said, noting that the town carted 15 truckloads, at about 20 tons per run, of “armor stone” for the repair, working alongside crews from Brex Construction.

“Basically, you want to get as large a stone as you can,” Osterrieder said. “We were fortunate to find a source on such short notice. Typically in these types of situations, you almost have to quarry this type of stone. So, the fact that we were able to call someone on a Friday and they were there on Saturday, I would say we dodged a bullet, but we are going to have to look at what a longer-term solution is.”

“That could have been a big chunk of the road washing into the Atlantic Ocean,” Selectman Shiloh Schulte said. “So that was fantastic.”

Schulte asked if the wall should be made “bigger, bulkier and stronger” to better guard against a future washout.

However, Osterrieder said the town is somewhat at the mercy of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

“The truth is, if you were to go to DEP today and said you wanted to build [a wall there], the answer would be pretty simple. It would be no,” he said. “It’s probably going to be a little bit of a negotiation [with DEP]. That could be a bit interesting. But the reality is the ocean is going to continue to do what it wants to do.”

“It’s not going to get any better. This is not something that’s going to go away and this was a one-time thing. This will be the norm going forward,” Schulte said. “It’s ultimately going to be a losing battle given the same [wall] configuration there.”

Selectman Blake Baldwin asked if the town could count on assistance from any state or federal agency.

“We are the sole owner of that wall. So, at this point there is nobody volunteering to offer us financial assistance,” Osterrieder said.

Meanwhile, the town is a bit under the gun, Osterrieder said. DEP will allow the town to repair and maintain an existing structure not allowed under current standards, but if two years go by, “it’s as if it was never there.”

Beach Avenue was down to one lane of traffic during the repair efforts and the road remained unpaved last week while 40-foot boreholes were drilled to better understand the underlying situation.

“We’ll do three days of drilling, and there are a lot of questions that should be answered with those samples, as well as what’s going on under the roadway there,” Osterrieder said. “Understanding the dynamics of the wave action in the area will also help us redesign the revetment.”

“We as a board need to look at what’s up down the road 10, 20, 30 years at all of our beaches, because, Kennebunk, that’s a huge part of who we are, the beaches,” Schulte said. “We have the same kind of wall at Gooch’s Beach. We need to know how much this is going to cost us down the line.”

Selectman William Ward said the current seawall was built in 1973 to replace an earlier concrete structure. He blamed the issue on jetties built off shore, which have actually served to increase beachfront erosion, including the slow destruction of Strawberry island, which 70 years ago was large enough that it actually had a house and barn on it.

“With that gone, those houses along the shore there are going to be in trouble from the increased wave action,” he said.

Board chairman Dick Morin asked that Osterrieder return to the board with an update after the test borings are done, and again “at budget time,” as the cost of a more permanent solution comes into view.

“I think we have a tendency to forget these things as other things arise,” he said, in asking for the reminder.

“We need to pay attention to our infrastructure in a number of areas,” Pardue said.

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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