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May delivery of coastal dredge likely, county officials say

A regional dredge that would help keep channels open and also supply sand to area beaches could be delivered by May. The Southern Maine Dredge Authority is expected to employ a director, who will hire staff and line up dredging jobs, which are likely to commence in 2024.

Posted on March 14, 2023

The coastal dredge funded by American Rescue Plan Act funds awarded to York County government should be ready for delivery in May.

The county government is working with the city of Saco to store the dredge and make it available for training.

York County Manager Greg Zinser and Save Our Shores Saco Bay president Kevin Roche updated county commissioners on the project earlier this month.

It is expected the first dredges will take place in 2024,  Zinser told commissioners.

At some point it will be leased to the nonprofit Southern Maine Dredge Authority, which will appoint an executive director, schedule dredging jobs, and hire  workers to operate it.

York County Commissioners earmarked $1.54 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds for the dredge, designed to keep channels open and supply sand to nourish eroding beaches up and down the York County coast and beyond, in October.

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 ,and others have expressed interest.

The quest for a regional dredge began several years ago. A feasibility study conducted by the Woods Hole Group for Southern Maine Planning and Development Commission issued in July 2018 found there was sufficient need for dredging and further evaluation.

“Numerous harbors and rivers in the region require routine maintenance dredging to ensure they are navigable by maritime commercial interests, fishermen, and recreational boaters,” the study notes. “High demand, lack of funds, and limited availability of dredging equipment have caused significant delays, often of years, to many of these much-needed dredging efforts. Furthermore, many of the region’s beaches are vulnerable to loss of sand from increases in sea level, increased frequency and intensity storm events, and seasonal erosion and would benefit from periodic nourishment with sandy sediment dredged from local navigation channels.”

The SMDC study went on to say that a 2017 report by the group  Protecting Maine’s Beaches for the Future recognized the need for up to 10,000,000 cubic yards of beach nourishment over the next 20 years, but as with the maintenance of local harbors and rivers, the nourishment projects were hindered by a lack of dredging resources.

Several years later, in 2021, SOS Saco Bay began pursuing a York County solution after it learned the county had received a $40 million allotment of ARPA funds. Roche suggested the purchase of a regional dredge at a public hearing the county held in June that year.

The dredging done by the 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.

Elliott Dredge of Baltimore, Maryland constructed the dredge and will provide training, Roche noted.

Communities who use the dredge will pay to do so, with the proceeds going to cover expenses. Saco City Council has pledged $170,000 in city ARPA funds 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 and on Monday said she is seeking cosponsors. A concept version of the bill states that the commission would be open to a member from each coastal community  from South Portland to Kittery, and would also include representatives of  the state departments of environmental protection; transportation; and agriculture, conservation and forestry along with the  bureau of resource information and land use planning, division of geology  natural areas and coastal resources, and Maine geological survey within the agriculture department.

Supporters are still looking for a supply boat that would work with the dredge.


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