Searsport Harbor improvements coming in 2014

By Dan West | Jan 02, 2014

Searsport — In the coming year Searsport Harbor will be the site of two large improvement projects.

Starting in early spring the town will rebuild its aging wharf while a major dredging project by the Army Corps of Engineers was set to be completed this year.

Searsport town wharf repairs

In order to keep the aging Searsport town wharf open for the 2014 season, it will have to make extensive repairs beginning in late March.

Voters approved $475,000 to help repair the wharf at a Special Town Meeting in November 2013. The money is intended as a match for a federal grant and a state Small Harbor Improvement Program (SHIP) grant.

The town is seeking a federal grant for boating infrastructure of $62,752 and a $250,000 SHIP grant to go toward the estimated $692,700 in repairs needed at the town wharf.

In 1996 the wharf was badly damaged by a severe storm, according to Town Manager James Gillway. Due to the cost of repairing the wharf the town elected to perform the repairs in five stages. The first three stages were completed by 2002; however, the remaining work has since stalled. This year Gillway said he thinks the town would be in a good position to win grant money and be able to complete the work.

"In 2010 I was successful in the grant process and received money to complete the engineering for the project," Gillway wrote. "This gives us a clear advantage for future grant funding."

The town will need to replace around 100 feet of the wharf's main structure, as well as replace some of its floating docks and repair or replace the water lines, electrical system and lighting, Gillway told The Republican Journal in October, 2013. Without the repairs Gillway said he did not think the wharf could open for business next season.

According to Gillway, the town will move forward with repairing the wharf whether it wins the grant money or not. If the town is unsuccessful in its grant bids it will have to go back to the voters to request more money, which Gillway said it would do at the town meeting on March 8.

In either case Gillway said he plans for repairs to begin in late March.

Gillway said he hopes to be notified by early 2014 if the town wins the grant money. Bids for the work would be released soon after, as the town has already completed the engineering work. Gillway said he hoped the work would be able to be completed by boating season.

Army Corps dredging

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is planning to perform a $12 million maintenance and improvement dredging project in Searsport harbor. The original timeline release by the Corps in April, 2013, stated it must complete the dredging by April 9 so as not to interfere with migrating Atlantic Salmon. However, a group of local communities with support from several legislators have urged the Corps to slow its timeline to further study the project's environmental impacts.

The Corps prepared a Draft Feasibility Study/Environmental Assessment to examine improvements to the navigation channel for Searsport Harbor, which it released in the spring of 2013. The Maine Department of Transportation is the non-federal sponsor for the project.

"The purpose of the proposed project is to maintain and improve the existing Federal navigation project for Searsport Harbor at Mack Point in Searsport to accommodate the deep draft vessels that currently use the existing terminals at the port," said Project Manager Barbara Blumeris, of the Corps' New England District, Engineering and Planning Division, in a written statement. "This improvement will reduce the transportation costs incurred by existing shippers due to tidal delays and light loading of vessels."

According to the Corps, the preferred navigation improvement alternative for Searsport Harbor is to deepen both the existing entrance channel and turning basin from their authorized depth of 35 feet to a depth of 40 feet mean lower low water. In addition, the entrance channel would be widened from its current 500 feet at the narrowest point to 650 feet, and a maneuvering area would be created in Long Cove adjacent to the east berth along the State Pier. About 892,000 cubic yards of material would be dredged for the improvement project.

The total quantity of material to be removed from the proposed project is approximately 929,000 cubic yards. Dredging and disposal must occur between Nov. 8 and April 9 to protect migrating Atlantic salmon and other natural resources in Penobscot Bay, according to the Army Corps. Disposal would be at the Penobscot Bay Disposal Site, approximately six miles from the project area, or at the alternative Rockland Disposal Site in the lower bay.

Because of the potential impact to the island community, the Islesboro Board of Selectmen asked other local communities to send letters to the Army Corps requesting a detailed Environmental Impact Statement or a full Supplemental Environmental Assessment be completed before the dredging project begins.

In the letter sent in November, 2013, the Islesboro selectmen state the proposed dredging would “have an adverse effect on businesses in the region, especially lobstering, boatyards and the service sector built upon a scenic and environmentally viable bay.”

Later in the letter, the selectmen state that they are not questioning the need for minor dredging in Searsport Harbor, but that their issue is with the amount of material proposed to be dredged.

Several surrounding communities including Searsport and Belfast agreed to send letters of concern to the Army Corps.

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