Posted on May 2, 2017
By Deborah McDermott, Seacoastonline.com
The dredging of York Harbor and increasing influx of recreational boats and paddlecraft on York River formed the nexus of a recent wide-ranging discussion among members of the York River Wild and Scenic Study Committee, the Harbor Board, lobstermen and conservationists.
The meeting was called by study committee members in significant part to discuss concerns by the Harbor Board and others that the federal Wild and Scenic River Partnership program might interfere with a proposed dredge of the harbor.
The program regulations stipulate the National Park Service – the federal agency with whom the York River towns would partner if it embraces the program – must review other federally-funded projects “to make sure that the project doesn’t negatively affect watershed resources,” said committee coordinator Jennifer Hunter.
The dredge would be funded by the Army Corps of Engineers, another federal agency, thus triggering the review. Lobsterman Mike Sinclair told the committee he is concerned about this.
“We would like some assurances going forward that this is not going to affect dredging,” Sinclair said.
Chuck Ott, chairman of the study committee, told the Harbor Board and fishermen in no uncertain terms that the committee “will not do anything that complicates in any way the dredging of York Harbor.”
He said the study committee first learned of this NPS review in January. While he believes the chances the NPS would actually hold up the dredge is “remote,” he said the study committee is committed to resolving this issue.
He said the committee would like the NPS to make all current and future dredging operations an “exempted use.” Maintenance dredging of the harbor typically occurs every 20 years, and is “necessary to support and enhance commercial and recreational use of the river,” he said.
If, however, the NPS is not willing to exempt dredges, he said the committee would “remove York Harbor from the area that we would recommend for designation (as a Wild and Scenic River). I would do that with great sadness, however. The harbor is the heart of the York River. But if we can’t resolve this to everyone’s satisfaction, that is the step we will take.”
“We are really working hard on this particular topic,” said committee member Cindy Donnell. “We need to sort it out and understand what the review would mean.”
Another hot topic at the meeting concerned next steps to deal with the burgeoning recreational boating and paddlecraft use of the river. The Harbor Board last year considered putting forth an ordinance to establish a fee system for crafts such as kayaks, canoes and paddleboards as a means of regulating use. The proposal met with stiff opposition, causing the board to rethink its plans.
Chairman David Webber said the board is planning to hire an independent contractor this summer to come to the Town Dock 1/Route 103 Bridge area at key points, like July 4 and other busy summer weekends, to survey people using the river.
“We’ll basically have someone marking off cars, and seeing where people go and how long they’re out on the river,” he said. “We need objective, quantitative data to go to the townspeople.”
The idea is to collect data over several summers. “If the data shows use is increasing, then we can say there’s a need to regulate use. Just saying we have a sense it’s overused doesn’t work,” he said.
Claire Enterline of the Maine Coastal Program, a member of the study committee, said education is also key in curbing the problem. “People come (to the river) to create a connection between the river and their lives. That’s something to foster. It creates a sense of place,” she said. “But that education piece is really important.”
She said, for instance, the Maine Island Trail Association requires people to have a sticker if they land in certain places. When they get the free stickers, they also get a map of where they can and can’t land “and why.”
Donnell said when she was at Town Dock 1 recently, she was “shocked at how much of Strawberry Island is gone. I think we need to do something about where they’re launching. They’re ruining our town with overuse.”