Residents of the town of Phippsburg may soon have an unobstructed view of the sunrise near Popham Beach. The Maine Board of Environmental Protection ruled Thursday that the remnants of a century-old pier, just off the beach, can be removed by an adjacent property owner.
The board rejected an appeal brought by some local residents who say the 150 pilings are part of the town’s history and landscape.
It’s probably safe to say that old timber pilings are typically not beloved, especially when they’re deteriorating. But residents of Phippsburg say these pilings are unique.
They harken back to a time in the late 1800s when a ferry service offloaded passengers on the pier and the area’s seafaring culture was still king. Artists paint and photograph them. Beach walkers focus on them as a scenic part of the horizon.
“The town feels that the department didn’t adequately look at the local significance of these items, the pilings, as a scenic resource for the town,” says Jessica Maher, an attorney for the town of Phippsburg.
Maher and local residents objected to the Department of Environmental Protection’s decision to issue a permit to Jackson and Susan Parker to remove the pilings back in June. The Parkers are concerned that the pilings are eroding the beach in front of their house and pose a navigational and safety hazard as they break apart.
“While some people may like to look at the pilings, the Parkers suffer the risks of the adverse impacts of the pilings, not only on the erosion of the beach but the dislodged pieces of debris swimming in front of their property,” says Juliet Brown, their attorney.
But the science around how the pilings are affecting erosion on the beach isn’t exactly clear. Nor is the expectation of what might occur once they are removed. To further complicate matters, the pilings are in a subtidal area, property that is owned by the state.
But no one owns the pilings themselves. The state considers them abandoned property. And that has some local residents like Barbara Keltonic wondering why the town’s interests in the pilings doesn’t carry more weight.
“I think a lot of people feel the way that I do. They’re iconic but I think we also have the one person getting to decide what’s going to be done with something like that,” she says.
After several hours of discussion, a majority of the members of the Board of Environmental Protection rejected appellants’ request for further consideration.
The town could choose to challenge the decision in court, although several residents say they don’t think that’s likely because of the expense. What is likely, they say, is that the pilings’ removal will change the character of a special part of Popham Beach.
This story was originally published Dec. 7, 2017 at 5:42 p.m. ET.