De-icing machines circulate water around the docks at the city marina. The city spent nearly $90,000 last year replacing 11 pilings after they were damaged by ice, at which point Harbormaster Adam Wilson went looking for a device to prevent ice from forming in the first place. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY KATE COUGH

“Ice eaters” allow city docks to stay in year-round

ELLSWORTH — Underwater fans installed at the marina are on track to save the city thousands of dollars in future years if they continue to work as well as they have been this winter.

Harbormaster Adam Wilson said the 17 “ice eater” machines installed below the docks in the fall have been working “fantastic” over the past few months.

“There’s been no ice formation,” Wilson said. “This is the first year we’ve left the docks in year-round.”

“Last winter we had 11 damaged pilings that had to be replaced” due to ice damage over the winter, Wilson said. The bill for that was close to $90,000, and Wilson began looking into ways to prevent ice from forming in the first place.

“I figured we’re not the only harbor that freezes over,” Wilson said. He eventually found Kasco de-icers, fans that circulate warmer water from the bottom to the surface, helping to prevent ice formation.

“They hang off the dock,” said Wilson, and “go up and down because it’s tidal.”

The de-icers work in water temperatures well below zero, said Wilson, and in the times the harbor has been frozen this year the docks have stayed ice-free.

Wilson said he isn’t yet sure how much the machines will cost to run each year, but said workers have been shutting them off when the weather is warmer and that they will be removed in the spring.

The city received a grant that covered much of the initial $15,000 cost to install the machines.

“This is the trial year,” said Wilson, to see how it would be to have boats berthed at the marina year-round.

The space can hold over 50 boats in the summer and 10 to 14 in the winter, said Wilson, which could one day include commercial operations and fishermen.

Kasco de-icers, according to the company’s website, have not only been used to keep boats afloat: the machines were also used to help rescue three young gray whales trapped beneath the ice near Barrow, Alaska, in 1988, by creating an opening in the ice for the whales to come to the surface for air.

Kate Cough

Kate Cough

Kate covers the city of Ellsworth, including the Ellsworth School Department and the city police beat, as well as the towns of Amherst, Aurora, Eastbrook, Great Pond, Mariaville, Osborn, Otis and Waltham. She lives in Southwest Harbor and welcomes story tips and ideas. She can be reached at [email protected]

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