Posted on October 25, 2022
The quest for a regional dredge to serve York County’s coastal communities got the okay Wednesday, Oct. 19, from York County Commissioners.
The vote to expend $1.54 million in federal American Rescue Plan Funds for a dredge that would provide much-needed sand to replace what erodes away and help keep channels open was 3-2. Commissioner Robert Andrews made the motion to authorize the funds, with the provision that ownership remain with the county and the dredge be leased long-term to the newly formed Southern Maine Dredge Authority. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Richard Dutremble. He, Andrews, and Commission Chair Allen Sicard voted in favor; Commissioners Donna Ring and Richard Clark voted against the measure.
Delivery is expected to take six to eight months.
“This will help not only Saco Bay but marine waters up and down the coast,” said Sicard.
The approval was long sought by Save Our Shores Saco Bay and has the support of communities like Saco, Wells, and several others, including Scarborough, in nearby Cumberland County.
While it is planned to aid coastal municipalities, Roche noted that the dredge could also be hired by private interests and perhaps the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“Thank you, thank you,” he told commissioners following the vote.
Roche said he expects it will be summer 2023 by the time the dredge is delivered to York County.
The nonprofit Southern Maine Dredge Authority which was recently been formed, would need to hire personnel to operate the dredge and provide them with training. As well, the authority would need to secure a support vessel to accompany the dredge, Roche said in an interview after the vote.
Communities that use the dredge would pay for the service.
The quest for a regional dredge to serve the coastal communities first surfaced some years ago and was the subject of a 2019 feasibility study by Southern Maine Planning and Development Commission. Proponents say a regional dredge would help coastal communities with beach nourishment — using dredged sand to shore up eroding beaches — and help keep channels open. The dredging done by a regional system would be separate from periodic dredges conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. A similar regional system is used in Barnstable, Massachusetts.
“This is a monumental achievement as we will soon be able to move sand, keep harbors and channels open, help marinas and fight erosion,” SOS Saco Bay said in a social media posting, thanking all who supported the proposal in various ways.
Saco City Council earlier pledged $170,000 to help with initial operational costs.
State Sen. Donna Bailey has submitted legislation to create a Southern Maine Coastal Waters Commission to oversee the Southern Maine Dredge Authority. According to the bill summary, membership of the SMCWC would be open to a representative from each coastal municipality from South Portland to Kittery, along with a representative each from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Maine Department of Transportation, Maine Geological Survey and the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.
Ring wondered what would happen if the plans went awry and the receiving authority went “kaput.” She expressed concern about the country’s general financial outlook.
Sicard said if the plans went awry, the dredge would be sold.
Clark said he still did not see the organization he had hoped to see from the outset, and while he sees letters of support for the program, he said he had asked for expressions of financial support from the beginning of the discussion, months ago.
“Saco is the only one offering support,” said Clark.
Sicard pointed out that financial support from the municipalities comes as dredging projects in their towns are carried out.
“We’ve always had a pay-as-you-go model,” said Roche.
Summer tourist revenue from York County beach communities contributes about $500 million annually to the economy, according to an October 2021 submission to county commissioners by proponents, citing figures from the Maine Economist website. In 2016, the figure was $485 million, $506 million in 2017, $528 million in 2018, $506 million in 2019, and $283 million in 2020, the first year of COVID, when travel restrictions were in place for part of the year.
The authorization provides a portable hydraulic dredge with a hull of three-piece steel construction, sporting a Caterpillar C18 Tier 3 marine engine, and an array of features, including two independent hydraulic swing winches, a hard iron dredge pump and an array of outfitting equipment, and more. It includes safety equipment, and delivery. According to the bid by Ellicott Dredges, there will be onsite support to oversee set up, start up, and enhanced training.