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Blue Hill harbor dredging project on the ballot

Overlay showing the extent of the dredging including the “CAD” location.

Posted on March 29, 2023

On the second page of the town referendum ballot, just after the municipal elections, is Article 3 of the town warrant, asking voters to appropriate $1,055,500 for a harbor dredging project. The budget committee recommends a “no” vote and the Select Board recommends a “yes” vote.

If the article passes, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) and the town of Blue Hill would partner on a dredging project that is expected to start in the fall of 2024.


The process for the harbor dredging project began in the fall of 2009 with a request to the Army Corps from the town of Blue Hill to see if dredging the harbor to make it accessible at all tides was feasible. According to Jordan Macy, an ACOE planner and study manger for the New England district, the feasibility study started in the summer of 2012. The progress of the study was halted after the ACOE found harmful petroleum-based contaminants on the muddy bottom of the harbor.

After several more studies and a years-long approval process, the ACOE presented the details of the project to the public at an info session in August 2022.


According to the plans provided by the ACOE at the 2022 presentation, which Macy confirms are the most up to date plans, a six feet deep, 80 feet wide and 5,400 feet long channel will be created in Blue Hill harbor. The channel will stretch from deep water off Parker Point to the inner harbor, adjacent to the town wharf. A wide circular dredged area, referred to as a turning basin, will be dug out at the wharf end of the channel. According to the ACOE, only the last 2,600 feet that stretch into Blue Hill Bay will require underwater dredging.

The turning basin will be 0.6 acres in diameter and will rest about 60 to 100 feet out from the town wharf in downtown Blue Hill. Because the channel cannot be brought right up to the wharf, something that the ACOE says would be dangerous to the wharf itself, the town will have to install floating docks to allow boats to tie up within the turning basin.

According to the ACOE, 71,500 cubic yards of the bottom of the harbor will have to be dredged and dumped at a specially chosen site offshore. Because of concerns about fish spawning, the ACOE has a window from November to April to dredge the harbor and dump the material. The top two feet of a small stretch of the inner harbor, totaling 10,600 cubic yards, showed elevated levels of contaminants and cannot be dumped with the rest of the dredged material.

Environmental impact

According to ACOE ecologist Todd Randall, who’s been working on the project since the beginning, said that during that first study the ACOE found what they call polyclinic aromatic hydrocarbons or PAHPAH, explained Randall, are contaminants left by diesel fuel and gasoline which affect the “little marine critters” that live in and on the muddy bottom of the harbor.

“The main toxicity to the environment would effect benthos,” he said, “little critters, clams and other life that are in contact with the contaminated area.”

Randall said one of the main reasons for the extensive delay in the project is because they were required to conduct three more ecological studies before proceeding with a plan. The results were that the PAH contaminants were limited to a small area, and despite extensive testing it was impossible to say where they had come from.

“We defined it to the inner harbor in the intertidal silty area,” Randall said.

The clay and silt that make up the mud in the contaminated area trap the toxic compounds, whereas sandy or rocky areas don’t, he continued.

The solution to the contaminants, according to Randall, is to use a Contained Aquatic Disposal site. A deep trench will be dug out of a sandy or rocky underwater area, the 10,000 or so cubic yards of contaminated mud would be placed in the hole, then it would be buried so the toxic compounds cannot reach the larger ecosystem. The CAD site is the only alternative to pulling the toxic mud ashore and trucking it to a land-based disposal site.

“We’ve used this method successfully in Boston harbor and Providence harbor,” said Randall

Randall said the ACOE conducts ecological studies on the CAD site after it has been sealed to ensure the contaminants do not leach out.

“Blue Hill is an anomaly from what I’ve seen in Maine, at least from my experience….We are confident we won’t see any adverse effects,” he said.

While the ACOE is confident they can properly and safely dispose of the PAH in the harbor, Macy said it, among other things, raises the projected cost of the project.

Cost estimate

The estimated total project cost, according to a 2022 report from the ACOE, is $3,138,000. The federal government is taking up 90 percent of that figure, leaving Blue Hill to pay $628,000. Macy says that the ACOE estimates the total cost based on market conditions, and while they are usually within a range of error there is a potential for the cost to go up. The biggest factor that raises cost, he said, is the ever rising price of diesel fuel.

The additional cost to the town, to reach the $1,055,500 asked for on the referendum ballot, will be for the purchase and instillation of floats, as well as other infrastructure, to make the dredged area accessible from the wharf. The floats will create access to the turning basin at any tide but will have to be removed in the fall and installed again in the spring due to ice.

According to the article on the ballot, the town will raise half the total ask, about $527,750, from property tax, and the other half from general obligation bonds.

According to Macy, the federal government will take on the job of maintaining the channel in perpetuity. The cost of maintaining the floats, after the initial cost of purchasing and installing them, will be the town’s responsibility.

Potential benefit

The ACOE calculates the financial benefits to the town as a result of the harbor dredging project based on data received from the town and its fishing fleet, according to Macy.

The largest benefit, according to an ACOE report, would be to Blue Hill’s commercial fishing fleet.

The report estimates that the fishing fleet would save an annual total of $133,200, or $2,664 per vessel, in prevented damage to their vessels from “banging against the wharf or colliding with other vessels while loading or offloading during adverse weather conditions.”

The report says delays to the fleet, costing time and fuel, will be lessened by the ability to use the wharf at all tides. It estimates a total of 25 of the 50 commercial fishing vessels that currently operate out of Blue Hill would be able to use the town wharf.

It also says the town will see an uptick in recreational boaters, which they’ve estimated to create $145,300 in annual revenue.

In total the ACOE calculated that the town, its businesses and its fishing fleet would save and/or create $336,400 annually.

“With channel dredging to the inner harbor wharf, there would likely be an increase in business revenues for suppliers, shops, and restaurants located in downtown Blue Hill as more commercial fishing activity would occur in the downtown area,” the report said.

Macy commented that the ACOE considers “national interest” when calculating project benefits, something that also encompasses the benefit to their local partners.

The vote

Whether the harbor dredging project goes forward is up to Blue Hill voters. The Budget Committee voted to recommend a “no” vote with two opposed, one in favor and one abstaining. The select board voted to recommend a “yes” vote with four in favor and one opposed, select board member Scott Miller. Miller said he opposed the cost of the project to the town and disagreed with the benefit estimations provided by the ACOE.

“There comes a time when it costs too much, and we’ve reached that point from my perspective,” he said.

A public informational meeting on the harbor dredging project will be held on Tuesday ,April 4, at 5:30 p.m. at town hall. The town election will take place on Friday, April 7, at the town hall with polls open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

More information on the project may also be found at More information on the use and impact of CAD sites may be found at


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