There are few viable long-term options to preserve the Chebeague Island property as intense storms become more frequent.
A screenshot of a slider tool comparing 2020 (left) and 2023 erosion. Credit: Courtesy of the Greater Portland Council Of Governments / Maine Public

New aerial images and data show that a shoreline property and sandbar on the tip of Chebeague Island in Casco Bay has changed dramatically in recent years.

The images of what’s known as the “Hook” were taken by the Greater Portland Council of Governments, which has studied sea level rise and erosion on coastal communities in the region.

Peter Slovinsky, a marine geologist for the Maine Geological Survey, said they reveal how the property on Chebeague Island has experienced intense erosion due to severe storms in 2018 and last year in late December.

“There’s erosion that’s occurred along that stretch from 2020 to 2023 that is averaging about 12 feet per year,” he said. “You’re talking about dramatic changes.”

Last year’s Christmas storm eroded part of the access road to the boathouse, seasonal Chebeague Island resident Phyllis Brunner said. She and her family have owned property on the Hook for more than 100 years.

“Any protections that the road had even a year ago are gone, and the road itself, a third of it is gone,” said Brunner, who’s also the president of a group of local property owners known as the Indian Island Association. “You can’t drive down there anymore, and everyone’s walking.”

Slovinsky said “the Hook” is a rather unusual property, because it’s a considered a “dynamic” system, meaning that it’s often meant to change rapidly due to sea level rise. The shoreline property contains a public access point and beach area, and the western side is private. A sandbar connects Great Chebeague and Little Chebeague Islands.

“It’s kind of tied to the identity of the island,” Slovinsky said of “the Hook.” “Realizing how dynamic this system is, it does not make sense to ‘protect’ that road. In adapting to a changing climate and adapting to increased storm events, one of the things we’re going to have to do is make those decisions: What do we protect? What do adapt, move or raise or elevate? And what do we let go? And in systems that are really, really dynamic and are still in somewhat preserved natural nature, letting those systems do their natural thing is really, really important.”

Property owners, the Chebeague and Cumberland Land Trust and the town of Chebeague Island have been discussing how to preserve the roadway, but Brunner said there are few viable long-term options as intense storms become more frequent.

Still, she said there are positive signs that the beach is rebuilding itself with less traffic on the access road. And this summer, near-threatened piping plovers nested on the island, which Brunner said is a first for Casco Bay in the last 40 years.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.