Posted on September 27, 2023
Last fall York County Commissioners approved the purchase of a dredge, designed to help combat coastal erosion, nourish beaches with sand, and help keep waters navigable.
Now, with the formation of the Southern Maine Dredge Authority, the county has been asked to decide the ownership.
The county had been awarded $40 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds in 2021 and sought county projects to consider. York County Commissioners were approached with the idea of securing a dredge by SOS Saco Bay. County Commissioners invested in My Place Teen Center in Biddeford; with Fair Tide of Kittery, which plans a services hub; in two county projects- a substance use recovery center and a first responder training center – along with repairs to some county buildings, and more – including the dredge.
A dredge had been contemplated by coastal communities in the recent past, but never moved to fruition.
SOS Saco Bay secured letters of support from coastal communities, and Commissioners approved the purchase in a 3-2 vote in October 2022.
With the other projects, however, the county was not in the position of ownership – it gave funds to the established entities. But the dredge authority had not been officially formed, and so the county became the owner.
SOS Saco Bay, which is advising the dredge authority, presented three options to York County Commissioners at a recent meeting – that the county continue to own the dredge and hire the dredge authority to manage and maintain it; that the county turn the dredge over to the dredge authority; or that the county retain ownership, but split responsibilities or lease the dredge to the authority.
SOS Saco Bay’s David Plavin said the dredge authority cannot proceed until the operational structure is set up. When asked, he said he preferred full ownership either by the county or dredge authority. He and SOS Saco Bay’s Kevin Roche indicated once the dredge authority had established a track record, it would look at using the equity to secure loans for additional equipment and the like.
County Manager Greg Zinser said he would seek instruction on how to dispose of the dredge, but indicated the federal rules of disposition say such transfers cannot be made to another nonfederal agency without receiving fair market value. “We know that is not an option,” said Zinser.
As well, he said he has been looking into other questions, like encumbering the title to seek loans as suggested by SOS Saco Bay, because it was purchased with federal funds.
“There’s some hurdles there,” said Zinser.
He said unless county commissioners decide otherwise, he would be working on a lease agreement.
Commissioner Justin Chenette asked if there was a timeline so as not to hamper the start of dredge operations next year.
Plavin said they would like a decision soon. He said the dredge authority still needs to hire an executive director, and they could apply for grants to help with operational costs. As well, rather than the dredge authority hiring employees to operate the dredge, they are looking at hiring a company to do the dredging.
The matter is expected to be on the agenda for an upcoming meeting.