2017-07-14 / Front Page

The beach is back (cleaning, that is)

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

Residents and visitors to Pine Point can expect a cleaner beach this summer in the event invasive red algae plagues the shore again.

Last summer residents of the beach community asked the town council to ramp up the amount of times the beach is raked and cleaned in order to remove the red algae, Heterosiphonia japonica, which tends to pile up on the beach where it rots, setting off an unpleasant odor.

Weekly cleaning – apart from the traditional beach cleaning – was added in 2016, but was reduced to twice a month when the council was trying to shave the budget down in May.

The cleanings were bumped back up to weekly last week as part of the town’s amended budget, after the council heard from many in the neighborhood who were unhappy with the abbreviated beach cleaning schedule.

The cost to full reinstate the cleaning – $6,000 – will be offset by increasing the projected interest revenue in the town’s investment account.

“I think we made a mistake when we cut that second beach cleaning and if we can reinstate that by increasing investment revenue, which we would be getting anyway, we ought to do that,” said councilor Will Rowan, who made the motion at the town council’s special meeting July 5 after fellow councilor Katy Foley redacted her amendment to do so.

Foley said she agrees the beach cleaning is needed, but removed her amendment because she didn’t want to change revenue lines or bring back a controversial item this late in the budget process.

Rowan said the issue is not just at Pine Point.

“I spent a few hours in the water at Ferry Beach on Monday (July 3) and could see these little balls of red algae floating in,” he recalled. “I’ve never seen it this bad.”

In the end, the council approved adding the extra cleaning back into the budget, although councilors Bill Donovan and Chris Caiazzo opposed.

Donovan said he didn’t support redebating a $6,000 item that was vetted weeks back when the original decision was cast, but would support Hall and Department of Public Works Director Mike Shaw handling the issue when, and if, it arises. Council Chairman Shawn Babine, who was torn about which way to vote, said the town manager does have the discretion to “spend on a line item basis as long as there are allocations in the budget elsewhere so if he does need to do that, he does have that authority.”

Caiazzo said he understood Rowan’s approach, but couldn’t support adding it back to the budget, at least not through this approach.

“My concern with this is we already deliberated these issues,” Caiazzo said. “There were a whole cadre of controversial, for lack of a better world, issues we addressed. My concern with this is if we reopened this and addressed it, the other corrections and changes we made, it’s reasonable and viable for someone to come back and say ‘you reinstated that, why don’t you reinstate my special program or what I thought was important that you cut from the budget.’”

He would, however, be open to addressing the need in a different way.

“If we can find a way to adapt to meet the need without reopening something, I would prefer to do that,” Caiazzo said.

Kate St. Clair supported adding the money back because “the Pine Point community came to us and begged us meeting after meeting to please help them and put this in the budget.”

“I see absolutely no reason we cannot accommodate that,” she said.

At the May 17 town council meeting, Pine Point resident Joanne LeBlanc said weekly removal of the algae is needed because “the more days between cleaning, the harder, denser and more offensive the odor becomes.”

LeBlanc said the algae, an invasive species from Japan, is “not going anywhere because it has no natural enemies.” It is also thought to choke out native seaweed, which limits the amount of food for many species in the area.

In September 2015, several members of the Pine Point community appeared before the council to ask for assistance with the issue. According to the University of Maine’s Sea Grant Program, the seaweed, originally from Japan, was first detected in New England in the late 2000s and was seen in Europe as early as the mid-1980s.

Paul Kirby, a resident of Granite Street, told councilors at their Sept. 16, 2015 meeting that he has heard more and more complaints about the algae from people he rents his home out to in the summer.

“The complaints we get from renters has increased exponentially in recent years,” he said at the time.

Candace Cullum has stopped vacationing at the Holiday House, a bed and breakfast and motel by the Old Orchard Beach line on East Grand Avenue, because of the influx of seaweed on Pine Point Beach, including Grand Beach, which is just mere steps from the Holiday House property.

“We, as an extended family, had been vacationing at the Holiday House for over 20 years. We no longer come in the summer due the disgusting red algae. It has created a forced end of an era so to speak for my family,” Cullum, who grew up in Cape Elizabeth, wrote in an email to the Leader. “It is such a sin that plant has been invading Grand Beach. Grand Beach is just absolutely beautiful beach. As a native Mainer it makes me so sad to lose my time there.”

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarbroughleader.com.

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