News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in The Weekly Packet, July 18, 2019
Army Corps presents town with $20,000 bill for harbor dredge study
Draft report finds project meets federal guidelines

No access to downtown Blue Hill

Low tide at the town wharf, above, prevents full-time commercial use, an issue a proposed Army Corps of Engineers dredging project would address.

Photo by Anne Berleant Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Anne Berleant

The latest proposal to dredge the Blue Hill harbor channel to secure all-tides access for commercial fishermen is one step closer to approval, after Army Corps of Engineers Project Manager Bill Bartlett presented a draft report of a feasibility study under way since 2015 to selectmen July 10.

However, holding onto a copy of the draft report will cost the town $20,000, selectmen learned.

With no warrant article requesting the funds at town meeting in April, “we have no money,” Selectman Jim Dow said afterwards.

The town has paid $104,000 to date for the feasibility study, after costs spiked from additional rounds of testing required after the ACOE found gasoline contaminants in isolated areas, mostly near the wharf itself. A second round of tests determined the safest, most cost-effective way to remove the contaminated dredge material. Under the town’s agreement with the ACOE, it would pay half the cost of the study, originally estimated at $160,000.

Now, the final cost is $240,000. The town has paid $104,000 to date, and the additional $20,000 must be approved through a town vote, as will the town’s initial 10 percent share for the construction, estimated at $3.5 million, or if the town wants the ACOE to dig a foot deeper, $3.75 million, with the additional quarter-million paid for by the town.

Bartlett said that without payment, the project would effectively be stalled, as funds owed would cover costs of producing a final report, which then would be publicly released. Agency review and a 60-day public comment will be held before a final report is ready for full ACOE approval.

If the town approves its share of the costs, construction could begin in 2021, depending on when a town vote is held.

“It’s a lot more than they were saying a year ago,” Selectman Ellen Best said.

The report estimates an annual commercial benefit of a dredged channel at $183,000 for a six-foot depth, and $190,000 for a seven-foot depth, for a benefit-cost ratio in the black, a requirement of the federal funding. The ACOE’s preferred alternative is a six-foot-deep channel.

As the federal program is aimed at commercial fishing, economic benefits arising from tourism and recreation are not included in the study although all-tides access would likely provide benefits to them.

“The ACOE has to demonstrate [economic] benefit on a national level,” Bartlett said.

The project would dredge a six- or seven-foot deep channel with a combined 35-foot side slopes and a 116-foot surface width. The town’s share is 10 percent or $350,000 up front, with an additional 10 percent due over 30 years, once the project is completed. The ACOE would cover all future maintenance costs.

The Department of Environmental Protection has approved the method for removing and disposing the contaminated material, Bartlett said, which is placing the material in a deep hole dug just outside the channel and covering it with clean dredge to trap the contaminated material.