The Maine Department of Environmental Protection fined the town of York $75,000 for constructing a seawall along Long Sands Beach without a permit.

State officials say the town violated the Natural Resources Protection Act when it continued to build a stepped seawall even after the DEP informed the town it needed a permit for the work. The work was being done to replace a seawall that was severely damaged during large storms in October and November 2017 and in March 2018.

Under a consent agreement with the department, the town must also build an educational kiosk near a new bathhouse to provide information to the public about the role of dunes and natural beach vegetation. Town Manager Stephen Burns estimated the overall project cost is expected to be around $3 million.

The fine will be paid from the Department of Public Works operating budget. The Board of Selectmen approved the consent agreement at its meeting on Monday.

According to the DEP, the area near Long Sands Beach where the wall was built is within a coastal sand dune. In May 2018, the department inspected the seawall and documented the work that was being done. After determining the stepped design was a change from the existing structure, the department told the town a permit was needed, according to the administrative consent agreement.

“The applicant continued to build the steps on top of the existing seawall in the weeks after being notified that these changes to the seawall required prior approval from the Department,” the DEP wrote in the consent agreement.

In a memo to selectmen, Burns said the DEP expected the town to stop work on the seawall once it was notified the town needed a permit. He said the town had been given a verbal OK for the work and had not applied for a permit before the project started.

“(They) concluded we should have had a permit from the very beginning, whereas we believed that direction received from (DEP) staff indicated otherwise,” he wrote.

The town submitted an after-the-fact application for the permit in August 2018. The permit was granted in September 2019.

Under the terms of the permit, the town will follow a five-year beach monitoring plan to determine if the new seawall design is causing erosion. The town is required to nourish the beach if sand volumes decrease more than 100 cubic yards from the baseline volume.

Burns said he proposed to the DEP that York conserve 113 acres of town-owned land to reduce the fine under a Supplemental Environmental Pollution Prevention Project, but that proposal was rejected.

While the Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to accept the administrative consent agreement, board members expressed frustration with the need for a permit and the amount of the fine.

“I think it’s a $75,000 slap in the face to the taxpayers of York,” said Selectman Michael Estes, who likened the fine to “extortion.”

Selectwoman Elizabeth Blanchard said she was voting for the agreement reluctantly and would have liked to file an appeal if that process wouldn’t hold up the project.

“I think we got a rotten deal here,” she said.


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