Blue Hill Harbormaster Denny Robertson (right) confers with resident Sean Walsh during a public hearing about a proposed dredge of the town’s inner harbor at the Blue Hill town office Aug. 11. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY JENNIFER OSBORN

Blue Hill again considers harbor dredging project

BLUE HILL — Whether or not to dredge Blue Hill’s inner harbor has long been a “will they, won’t they” situation.

Now it’s time once again for the town to make its move. Or not.

The Army Corps of Engineers held a public hearing about the proposed dredge via Zoom with members of the Blue Hill Select Board as well as Marine Resource Committee members and residents at the town office Aug. 11.

“We think there’s a federal interest in pursuing this project from our end,” said Mark Habel of the Army Corps’ planning office. “Now it’s up to you to make that decision from your side.”

The corps and the town have been discussing whether to dredge the harbor since 1891, according to a Blue Hill Harbor channel history compiled by Friends of Blue Hill Bay.

Over the past 10 years, the partners have tested the sediment in the harbor and designed a “confined aquatic disposal cell” to hold any contaminated materials that might be dredged up.

Voters will likely be asked to decide at the annual Town Meeting in April 2023 whether or not to dredge, according to Select Board Chairperson Ellen Best and Scott Miller, who moderated the meeting.

Select Board members Butler Smythe and Sean Dooley also attended, as did Harbormaster Denny Robertson.

The project would entail dredging an all-tides channel about 80 feet wide and 6 feet deep, Habel said. A turning basin off the municipal wharf would be about twice the width of the channel, according to Habel. That would entail dredging 71,000 cubic yards of material.

The proposed cost is $3.4 million. The town has already spent $124,000. Blue Hill would need to pay an additional estimated $700,000. That would be $374,000 to start construction and the remaining $374,000 due at project completion, according to the Corps.

Access to the Blue Hill Harbor town wharf is only during high tides, leading to delays, groundings and other inefficiencies in commercial fleet operations, according to a copy of a study done by the Corps. There are two other landings, including South Blue Hill, but they are overcrowded and/or competing with recreational craft. The South Blue Hill wharf is open and exposed to wind and waves, which can damage boats and floats during stormy weather.

About a dozen residents attended the hearing.

“The South Blue Hill wharf is packed right now,” said resident Sean Walsh.

“I want to emphasize what Sean’s saying,” said Geoff Anthony, who is on Blue Hill’s Marine Resources Committee. “This town has passed on access time and time and time again. And the selectmen have been drivers of it. Now we’re going to have to pay the price. I tell you what, $800,000 is cheap because there’s nothing you could buy on the harbor right now for that.”

Best added, “And if you could buy it, you’d have to sink infrastructure money into it.”

“I think there will be a lot more recreational use,” Best said, if the harbor is dredged.

“It’s embarrassing for a town with such a pretty harbor and so much coastline that we don’t have a landing downtown,” Best said. “The only one we have is mostly unusable six days out of seven.”

Among the questions asked were what material, if any, the town wharf sits on.

Resident Blaise de Sibour said the wharf sits on two timbers “below mud level.”

“Is there any provision for all tides boat launching there?” de Sibour asked Habel. “If not, how does that create any more benefit for recreational boaters than there is now?”

“It’s your harbor,” Habel replied. “If you believe the boat ramp needs to be extended, that’s not something the federal government can pay for.”

One woman asked how long it might be before the harbor would need to be dredged again.

Habel said many decades and the cost of all subsequent dredges of that channel would be borne exclusively by the Army Corps.

“We looked at this back in the 1960s,” Habel said. “This is a second look at that project.”

However, this was more like a seventh look.

Harbormaster Robertson recalls his father, back in 1946, helping the Army Corps dig samples for a dredge proposed for the harbor back then.

The Corps concluded back then that improvements were warranted “pending a study of costs and local cooperation,” according to the Blue Hill Harbor channel history.

Projects were at least considered in 1891, 1911 and 2009, according to the Friends. In the century before last, the corps deemed the harbor not worthy of improvement because of ledge.

In 1911, the harbor was considered again by the corps but again found not worthy again, according to the Friends of Blue Hill Bay.

But in 1972, the Corps had a change of heart and recommended a 2,600-foot-long and 6-foot-deep channel and turning basin to the municipal wharf. However, Blue Hill residents demurred over the cost sharing.

Jennifer Osborn

Jennifer Osborn

Reporter and columnist at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Jennifer Osborn covers news and features on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle-Stonington. She welcomes tips and story ideas. She also writes the Gone Shopping column. Email Jennifer with your suggestions at [email protected] or call 667-2576.

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