News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in The Weekly Packet, August 1, 2019
Army Corps ‘saw logic’ in releasing dredge report before payment

by Anne Berleant

An Army Corps of Engineers’ draft report on the feasibility, costs and benefits of dredging Blue Hill Bay’s channel into the town wharf will be made public, after selectmen spoke with ACOE Project Manager Bill Bartlett and senior staff July 22.

The decision reverses what Bartlett told selectmen the previous week. After reviewing the report with selectmen July 10, he said the ACOE wouldn’t release it until the town paid $20,000, its final share of the study’s cost—and the first time selectmen heard of the additional charge.

Selectmen explained that without information from the draft report to share with citizens, gaining voter approval for the additional expense would be difficult.

“They saw the logic in that and will send a copy of the draft report,” Selectman Ellen Best said. Selectmen had not yet received the draft as of July 30.

Bartlett said the draft report shows the project meets federal guidelines, though an official approval is dependent on the final report.

The feasibility study, first started in 2015, was estimated to cost $160,000, with Blue Hill and the ACOE equally splitting the cost. Voters approved the town’s $80,000 share, and then an additional $24,000 for further tests after contaminants were found in isolated spots in the channel.

Four years later, the ACOE has determined that the contaminants, fuel byproducts, are minimal and the project can move forward, with the contaminated material placed in a deep hole in the outer harbor and sealed with “clean” dredged material.

The cost of the dredging project has also increased in the past four years, in part from the costs of disposing the contaminated material. Originally estimated at about $1.6 million, Bartlett said costs now are in the $3.5 million range. But even at that significantly higher cost, the report shows an economic benefit to the town and the roughly 42 commercial fishing boats that use the town wharf. (The ACOE does not account for any economic benefit from recreational use or tourism in its project proposals.)

Federal funds would cover 90 percent of the project upfront, with the town’s initial town share 10 percent, and an additional 10 percent due when the project is completed, payable over 30 years. That means the cost to Blue Hill would be $350,000 up front and $350,000 upon completion.

However, if the project is approved by the ACOE and Blue Hill voters, additional infrastructure would be needed that is not covered, Best warned. Rebuilding floats, moving the boat ramp and installing ramps to finger floats, all examples cited by Best, would be costs borne by Blue Hill.

“We really need to have not only the information from [the ACOE] but also our own due diligence [for costs of the] infrastructure needed to support the project,” she said.

But for resident Tim Horton, the numbers were beginning to add up: “I just want the taxpayers of the town to know how much it’s going to cost.”