York Public Works Director Dean Lessard stands at the foot of a stepped seawall along Long Beach Avenue near the town's new bathhouse. Credit: Rich Beauchesne | The York Weekly

YORK, Maine — The state Department of Environmental Protection has handed over the York Beach seawall review to an engineer, who is taking over from the state marine geologists handling the review up until now.

Public Works Director Dean Lessard finds this a hopeful sign, as the town awaits DEP’s decision on whether or not it will issue an after-the-fact permit for the work the town has done on the stepped seawall around the bathhouse and south of Sun ’n Surf Restaurant.

Lessard said an engineer is much more suited to review the town’s seawall design created by the town’s consulting engineers, Ransom Consulting. In the meantime, the town has stopped work on the wall, after DEP Commissioner Gerald Reid last February demanded York stop construction or face consequences.

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Lessard said although he has not received a timeline from DEP on when it will reach its decision on the permit, he told selectmen recently “finally, I think we’re starting to see progress.”

Time is of the essence, he said. For instance, in mid-March, a front came off the coast and caused the sea level to rise to 11.2 feet. “We see splash over on Long Beach Avenue at about 10.4 feet, where we start seeing rocks and seaweed on the road,” he said.

The town has installed a new stepped seawall south from Sun ’n Surf to about 400 feet to the north of Long Sands Road, Lessard said.

[State says town’s continued work on seawall ‘willful violation of Maine law’]

“The new seawall seemed to perform really well,” he said. “There were some rocks that splashed over but not like we’ve seen in the past.”

But he said that storm also saw splash over just north of Sun ’n Surf, “which is a relatively new condition. Five years ago, we weren’t seeing much splash over in that area. Indeed, it (sea level rise) is getting worse, but we’re seeing our wall where we’ve rehabbed it work pretty well.”

The issue between the town and DEP goes back to 2018, when DEP told York it had to file for an after-the-fact permit for its work on the stepped seawall at the bathhouse. While it awaited a decision from DEP, the town continued to build a stepped wall along sections of the beach. This work is what caused Reid to order the town to stop construction in February.

[Town, state remains at odds over first-of-its-kind seawall]

According to Lessard, the DEP engineer actually contacted the scientists who performed some of the studies on which the town is basing its design, “to see whether the conclusions we’ve reached are correct.” He said the engineer has confirmed the town engineers’ design. DEP officials confirmed an engineer has been assigned, but did not provide further detail.

Lessard said DEP reached out to the Army Corps of Engineers, as well, for its opinion.

“Hopefully, we get that permit soon because the priority is still that section by Long Sands Road that really takes it pretty hard during a storm,” he said.