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Rising tides and sand dune erosion threaten French D-Day museum

The building on the Normandy landings site is at risk if local authorities are refused permission to keep adding sand to the dunes

Around 7,000m3 of sand is added to the beach every two years to save The Musée du Débarquement at Utah Beach Pic: Collection Musée Utah Beach

A museum on a key site of the Normandy D-Day landings is under threat from rising tides – and the local mayor is calling for action.

The Musée du Débarquement at Utah Beach in Sainte-Marie-du-Mont (Manche) is on the site of the first beach stormed, with more than 23,000 US troops coming ashore on June 6, 1944, but the dunes are progressively eroding.

Read more: Black US D-Day veteran awarded France’s highest honour aged 100

‘If we move the museum, we lose the emotion’

The village adds around 7,000m3 of sand to the beach every two years, and plants beachgrass to keep the dune in place but there is no guarantee that this will be enough and it is only authorised to do this until 2028.

If an extension is not granted, it will be forced to consider moving the museum.

Mayor Charles de Vallavieille said: “As we are a coastal town, the law does not allow us to move it to another site on the beach.”

For him, it is out of the question to move the museum inland. “Utah is the beach, an emotion, a shared history on a symbolic site. If you move, you lose this emotion.”

Read more: D-Day: French archaeologists launch research ahead of 78th anniversary

Trying to change coastal law

Mr de Vallavieille, whose father created the museum in 1962, is hoping to alert the government, which he says has put him in an impossible position. 

“I didn’t want history to remember that my father created the museum and I did nothing to save it, but there’s nothing I can do.”

After recently raising the issue in the media, he says he received a letter from two senators from Manche department, who promised to try to change the loi littoral, which imposes strict regulations around developing coastal areas.

Read more: Map shows 20% of French coast at risk from erosion

190,000 visitors in 2019

For Mr de Vallavieille, the priority is to get the green light to continue rebuilding the dunes. 

“If we are allowed to add more sand, and to stop visitors from walking on the dunes, we can hold out for quite a few years.”

Asking people to avoid the beach is not a new idea. 

“Twenty years ago, the guidance wasn’t followed. Today people are more aware of ecology,” he said. 

The museum had 190,000 visitors in 2019.

Several Normandy coastlines are under threat from erosion, including cliffs at Cotentin, the white cliffs of Seine-Maritime and salt flats in Manche, as well as beaches in Calvados.

Related articles

Career change in France: ‘I never tire of talking about World War Two’

War veteran writes open letter against wind farm plans on D-Day beach

Cocaine bags continue to be found washed-up on beaches in Normandy

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