News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in The Weekly Packet, November 30, 2017
Costs rising for harbor dredge proposal
Army Corps calculates economic benefit at $5 million

by Anne Berleant

When the Army Corps of Engineers arrived in 2014, they saw the “pristine community of Blue Hill and assumed the [project] would be clean,” project manager Bill Bartlett said at a November 15 public meeting.

The project is dredging a 2,500 foot long, 100-foot wide channel in the inner Blue Hill Bay harbor to allow all-tide boat access. The depth would be seven feet below the mean low water tide mark. Currently at low tide, mud flats stretch from the town dock nearly as far as the eye can see.

The ACOE has determined a $5 million dollar economic benefit to the town from the project, Bartlett said after the meeting, based solely on increased efficiencies to the commercial fishing fleet, currently around 42 boats.

The initial $160,000 feasibility study cost was split between the ACOE and the town, as was an additional $18,000 in tests involving “hot spots” of contaminants found during the study.

Voters now face approving testing disposal methods of the contaminated material, at a $70,000 cost to taxpayers.

The cost of dredging the channel is estimated at $1.6 million. The town’s share is 10 percent up front, and another 10 percent over 20 years. The disposal method of the contaminated dredge will determine whether the project price rises up to $2 million, or considerably more.

“The cost benefit is focused on commercial [use] but we think there’ll be a side benefit to recreational use,” Selectman Jim Schatz said.

Any infrastructure would fall solely on the town. If the channel is dredged, boats will still need to use floats at low tide, similar to South Blue Hill, for shore-to-boat access.

Three options

The first disposal option is to drop the material in an eastern passage site and “cap it” with the clean dredge. Testing is needed to determine whether the drop would disperse contaminated material in an amount toxic to water life. The cost to test this is $80,000, and to handle the dredged material is $150,000 to $200,000.

The second option is to place the contaminated material in a CAD (confined aquatic disposal) cell, dig a pit outside the harbor and place the cell inside, and then cap with the clean dredged material. Testing this method will cost $35,000 but using this method will add perhaps $400,000 to the project because of the greater volume of dredged material involved.

Bartlett recommended funding both tests, with an additional $25,000 overhead, for a $140,000 total cost. If the first option is found to be sufficient, the unspent funds could be returned to the town.

The third option, to run contaminated material through a screen, remove, wash and place the stones on shore, and then de-water the dredge and dispose at an outside site would cost $10,000 to test but $120-$130 per cubic yard, for a total $1.2 to $1.3 million disposal cost.

The ACOE could okay $3 million to $4 million for the dredge project based on its calculated economic benefit, Bartlett said.

But, as the project cost rises, so would the town’s share.

“As a taxpayer, I need a little bit more,” Johanna Bartlett observed. “The [recreational use] infrastructure [cost] is going to be borne by the town…We need to understand more solidly what the cost and benefits are.”

Don Eley questioned the effect of a 140-foot-wide dredge on the wells of surrounding property.

Selectmen will put the question of funding the study to voters at the 2018 town meeting. Voter approval will also be needed before the dredging can take place.

“Would the cost of [the town] acquiring waterfront with all-tide access be more or less expensive?” Harbormaster Denny Robertson asked.

Even including the costs of the new study, the town share of the project, and $100,000 spent on infrastructure, the project would cost less than purchasing property with access, Selectman Ellen Best said at the November 17 selectmen’s meeting.

“In my mind, as a practical approach in guaranteeing all-tide access to the harbor, this is the best economic bet,” she said.