2018-08-10 / Front Page

Invasive seaweed solution may be at hand

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer

A solution for a summer infestation of invasive Asian red algae along Pine Point Beach in Scarborough may be near at hand — except for a small section the town that is currently barred from cleaning due to a 45-year-old conservation easement.

The algae, or red seaweed — actual name Heterosiphonia japonica — first began showing up along the Maine coast in 2012. It is believed to have hitched a ride on Chinese or Japanese ships, and left in the area by the discharge of ballast waters. Apart from threatening to choke out native species, the crimson-hued string-like seaweed gives off a pungent odor when exposed to air.

“It smells very foul. It has a sewer smell to it. It’s a health hazard,” said Driftwood Lane resident Tookie Clifford.

Moreover, the seaweed attracts insects, Clifford said.

“I’ve been bitten. It stings. Some people can get a rash and a fever. It’s certainly not good for little children,” she said.

According to Clifford, the red seaweed arrived earlier than ever this year, and has been been more pervasive than ever before.

“This year is as bad as it’s ever been,” Town Manager Tom Hall said on Tuesday. “It some places, it’s been as much as four feet deep.”

Hall said public works crews rake the beach twice per week, on Tuesdays and Fridays, in the early mornings. The seaweed is trucked to an old landfill near on Holmes Road near Beech Ridge Motor Speedway.

By law, Hall said, the town must put the seaweed back in the water, after it has died, presumably to act as a nutrient.

Hall said he did order the increase in beach cleaning this season from the usual once-per-week, but said not much more is possible.

“Not to diminish this issue in any way, but I’m not sure the council would like for me to overspend my budget,” he said.

Even if some might wish for more active cleaning, others are concerned one stretch of beach is not being touched at all.

“Many of us have contacted public works but nothing is being done about it,” said resident Laura Turner in an email to the Leader, in which she deemed the seaweed odor to be “disgusting”

“The town has refused us many, many times,” Turner agreed. “They are cleaning it, but they’re not cleaning our area, even though they used to.”

Hall said the area cited by Clifford and Turner, from the Pine Point parking lot to the jetty, cannot be cleaned by the town. That’s because a 1973 conservation easement placed on the beach by the original property owner before lots were split off is owned and managed by the state.

According to Gerry Gaudette, president of the Pillsbury Shores Association, there are 19 property owners along its section of the beach.

The association has been negotiating with the town “for years” he said, hoping to get it to act on its behalf an en emissary to the state.

Without approval from Augusta, the easement prohibits removal shrubs, sea grass, or other vegetation, as well as any dredging or removal of sand.

Gaudette said Clifford is correct in one sense — prior to Hall’s tenure with the town, Scarborough did indeed clean the beach section along the section owned by Pillsbury Shores Association members. But Gaudette, a snowbird who has lived in town for five years, says he has not been able to determine exactly when or whey that stopped.

“I’ve heard lots of reasons, from concern about erosion to the plovers, but the one I personally believe is that the town at that time just didn’t know about the conservation easement.”

Now it is well known and the problem is that, despite ongoing talks with Public Works Director Mike Shaw, four association members have continued to balk.

“For whatever reason, those four just do not want the town to go in there and clean any of this (red seaweed) out,” Gaudette said.

Gaudette said an impasse has been partially broken.

On Monday, he said, he filed a petition with Shaw asking the town to negotiate with the state, applying for a rule-by-permit giving it the ability to clean that section of beach encompassing the first six properties after Hurd Park, heading toward the jetty. That much can he done, he said, before getting to the first opposing property owner.

“The seaweed usually dissipates by this time. It’s already much better today,”

Gaudette said on Tuesday. “So, obviously, nothing is going to happen for this year. But maybe some sort of agreement can be in place for next year.”

Gaudette said he wants to stress that, where town hall is concerned, “nobody is dilly-dallying, nobody has dropped the ball.”

“The town has been absolutely phenomenal to work with throughout this issue,” Gaudette said. “When I started in as association president a year ago, I had a lot of people tell me all kinds of bad things about the town, that they would not cooperate and everything else. But I have found the town to be a partner throughout this process. I have no complaints at all about what the town has done or not done. They have met whenever we’ve wanted to meet. They’ve guided us and offered suggestions, and we’ve been working together to get through.

“So, we are working this thing. We are going to continue working it. And I’m sure there are going to be plenty of more meetings in the coming weeks.”

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

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