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  • Tammy L Wells

York County Government Eyes Dredge Operation in Wake of January Storms

ALFRED, Maine – York County Maine Government is looking at putting the dredge it owns to work assisting coastal communities with sand and dune nourishment after two devasting mid-January storms.

County Manager Greg Zinser told York County Commissioners at recent meetings that it may be possible to get the dredge in the water by the fall.

“I think it’s an opportunity to get the dredge going and address the critical need of the rebuilding of the beaches and dunes, primarily the dunes,” Zinser told commissioners.

The storms are said to have created an estimated $20 million in damages to public infrastructure.

York County Commissioners agreed in late 2022 to purchase a dredge with $1.54 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to help combat coastal erosion, nourish beaches with sand, and help keep waters navigable – an idea first advanced by the nonprofit SOS Saco Bay.

The intent when the project was approved was that a new nonprofit entity – Southern Maine Dredge Authority – would be created and take ownership, but the authority was not fully operational when the dredge was completed, so the county did. Complications with federal rules of disposition and the like are unresolved, so the county retains ownership. The situation is unlike other projects county commissioners supported with ARPA funds – including a teen center and a social services hub – where allocations were made directly to the nonprofits.

While the need for sand to combat erosion on Maine’s southern coast has been frequent and ongoing over the years, the two January storms that have destroyed the dunes in many locations and wreaked havoc on the beaches has heightened the need.

At the Feb. 21 York County Commissioners meeting, Zinser said there have been preliminary talks with a company experienced in dredge operations that could assist as a consultant. Further discussions were to take place this week.

“One scenario is buying versus renting equipment, or contracting with another dredge crew,” Zinser told the board. “I’ve had several conversations with (municipal) managers who are interested in what we’re doing; what we really need to ascertain is how many entities really want to do this.”

He said the consultant would help the county determine equipment and survey costs and related dredge matters. The county will meet with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to discuss the permitting process.

 “We need to know if we are operating it before we engage the towns,” said Commissioner Justin Chenette. “Are we proceeding with a county operation? I want to make sure we are hiring this (consultant) to get that answer.”

Zinser said he is looking for the consulting firm to provide costs associated with each scenario. The dredge matter will be back before commissioners regularly, he said.

“We’ve already started direct communication with the towns,” said Zinser, noting if the project were to advance, the county would determine a cost for the work and the municipality would contract with the county to have it done.

State and county emergency management officials have been compiling information on the extent of damage wrought by the two storms in preparation for a federal disaster declaration that triggers Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to help communities.

Commission Chairman Richard Dutremble said he had spoken with a couple of members of the Southern Maine Dredge Authority and let them know the county was looking into operating the dredge.

“I told them it’s not a done deal…. that if it’s feasible we’d probably do it,” said Dutremble.


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