February 2, 2023
Shara Dee
(207) 347-4143


City Plans Restoration of Willard Beach Dunes Damaged in December Storm 

SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine – The City of South Portland announced that it plans to restore the vast majority of dunes on Willard Beach that were washed out during a December 23, 2022 storm that brought exceptionally high tides.

The City plans to actively restore dunes between Willard Street and Myrtle Ave. These dunes protect important public infrastructure, namely the wastewater force main that runs along the beach, in addition to providing wildlife habitat. The restoration plan was developed by South Portland Parks, Recreation, and Waterfront staff in consultation with the Cumberland County Emergency Management Association (CCEMA), Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and the Maine Geological Survey (MGS). It utilizes an approach used successfully in other parts of the country to rebuild dunes naturally and economically.

The plan calls for repurposing used Christmas trees and placing them into the dunes to help trap blowing sand and rebuild the dunes. This project was suggested by MGS based on the success North Carolina and Alabama have seen in using this technique for 40+ years. This will be a pilot project for the City and state, since no other Maine beach has utilized this technique previously. The City is awaiting permission from DEP to implement the plan.

South Portland Parks, Recreation and Waterfront staff acted quickly in collaboration with the Department of Public Works to utilize the City’s collection of discarded Christmas trees for the project. Pending DEP approval, the trees will be lined up in rows to act as sand traps for blowing sand and to slow any wave action that might reach them. The Christmas trees will be placed into the dunes to help them grow vertically. Once covered with sand, they will become a natural part of the dunes.

The City anticipates placing Christmas trees in dunes at Willard Beach as early as this month, or as soon as the permitting process is complete. Only the City may place trees in the dunes, and asks the public to remember that no dumping of any kind is allowed on the beach or in other public areas.

This spring, the City will assess how much sand is collected naturally with the Christmas trees. More matching sand may need to be brought in to help fill the dune area. Once sufficient sand is in place, the City will replant dune grass on the stretch of beach between Willard Street and Myrtle Ave. The project is estimated to cost in the range of $20,000. (The City investigated potential Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding through CCEMA, but our dunes were deemed ineligible for funding.)

A small patch of dunes on Willard Beach between Myrtle Ave and Beach Street will be left to regenerate on its own, without active restoration by the City. These dunes primarily protect private property, and Maine’s Constitution prohibits the City from spending public funds for a private purpose. However, because rooted dune grass still exists in this area, it is expected that the dunes will trap sand on their own and build forward. The City will keep dune fencing in place in this area to discourage foot and dog traffic to aid growth. The City is also open to partnering with private citizens or groups that might be interested in funding efforts to restore dunes on this section of the beach for their private benefit.

While the dunes will take many years to regrow, South Portland Parks, Recreation and Waterfront staff will be working with DEP to help ensure the dunes have the best chance at a full recovery. Other damage from the December storm to City property was minimal.

“We’re grateful to the many experts who helped craft this plan and all those who expressed concern about the dunes in the aftermath of the storm,” said South Portland Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Director Karl Coughlin. “It’s clear that our beach is treasured, and we look forward to getting going on our plan to bring back the dunes.”