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Saco first municipality to sign dredge agreement with York County government

Saco became the first of seven coastal municipalities to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with York County government on the use of the county's dredge to rebuild sand dunes, berms and beaches damaged by the Jan. 9-13 storms. The dredge is shown here heading to Portland Yacht Services for painting and full assembly, and will be moored in Wells until the dredging season commences in November.

Posted on April 17, 2024

The City of Saco and the County of York have signed a memorandum of understanding that outlines how the parties will proceed with dredge operations. Six additional municipalities – Ogunquit, Wells, Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, Biddeford and Old Orchard Beach – have also told county officials they too, plan to do so.

York County Commissioners unanimously approved the agreement with Saco on Wednesday, April 10.

The agreements formalize the commitment of each municipality and York County and will be followed with formal contracts later in the process.

The county-owned dredge will be bottom-painted at Portland Yacht Services, and later this month, Ellicott Dredge, which manufactured the vessel, will be joined by Michel’s Construction, Inc., to complete the final assembly. The dredge will be towed to Wells, where it will be harbored until the November dredge season begins.

It will be used to help restore sand dunes and beaches that took a heavy beating over two fierce coastal storms over Jan. 9-13. It is designed to collect and deposit sand on the shorelines, restoring beaches and dunes to pre-storm conditions, making them more resilient and compensate for sand lost to storm erosion.

“I’ve coordinated with all the towns, everyone is in favor,” said York County Emergency Management Agency Director Art Cleaves. “The town think it’s a good thing… and it will save them money in the end.”

According to the MOU, the county intends to contract dredge staffing.

Two of the municipalities – Wells and Ogunquit, have dredging permits in place.

York County is poised to cover all startup costs, according to the MOU. It notes a significant amount of engineering work, and other professional services will be needed prior to start of operations, and states the county will pay those costs and bill each town on a proportionate basis as they occur.

Dredging and depositing sand on York County’s ocean beaches has been a practice for many years, as erosion has taken a toll – a heavy one in some locales, like the Camp Ellis area of Saco, which has lost 38 homes to the sea over the last several decades. A regional dredge had been discussed by the municipalities previously but never materialized.

A new regional effort emerged as the federal government passed the American Rescue Plan Act to assist counties and municipalities during the pandemic. York County Commissioners agreed to purchase the 82-foot Ellicott dredge using $1.54 million in APRA funds and took delivery of the vessel several months ago. When the two January storms decimated dunes and beaches along the shore, county officials knew they could help the municipalities by putting the dredge to work.

“Do you think we can get the dredge utilized in all seven towns this fall?,” asked Commissioner Justin Chenette following the vote. “That is a lot of towns requesting a dredge.”

Cleaves said the towns understand it will take time for all of the projects to completed, and the timeline isn’t yet known.


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