BLUE HILL, Maine — Selectmen have revived the idea of dredging the inner harbor to provide all-tide access to the town wharf.
In a letter earlier this month, selectmen asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to investigate the possibility.
According to Selectman Jim Schatz, selectmen informed the corps that they believe they have “the components in place to enhance the town’s working waterfront.”
A dredging project that established all-tide access would benefit boaters, including fishermen, and the town’s downtown merchants. The downtown area is just a short walk from the town wharf.
While many fishermen use the town wharf in South Blue Hill, some have all-tide access by way of Steamboat Wharf, which sits on private property. While that has been a long-standing arrangement, Schatz said, there is some concern that if the property changes hands, the fishermen could lose that access.
Although large sailing ships once came into the inner harbor, Schatz said that, according to local historians, there was never all-tide access.
“They used to bring large ships in there, but they had to ride the tide in and out,” he said.
Dredging the harbor is not a new idea. About six years ago, the town had an engineering study done to look at the possibility of a dredging project.
“It was quite an assessment,” Schatz said. “They gave us a number of options. But those options were fairly expensive and were never pursued.”
The options ranged from creating a turning basin just off the town wharf that would create all-tide access, he said, to dredging throughout the harbor to create all-tide access at the town wharf and other areas in the harbor, such as Cemetery Cove.
Selectmen revived the idea at the urging of the town’s harbor committee, which, Schatz said, has been approached by a number of people interested in the project. One resident suggested there might be federal stimulus funds available to help with the cost.
Although the money does not seem to be available in Maine, there may be other avenues of funding for a dredging project, Schatz said. It likely will be several years in the planning, he said, and would need local approval before it could move forward.
There could be some opposition to the dredging, he said. While many see all-tide access as a project that could bring economic benefit not only to fishermen but also to the town’s merchants by attracting recreational boaters to the downtown shopping area, Schatz said, others are concerned that it will increase boat traffic to the point where the harbor would become congested as some other Maine harbors have become.
“Some have a vision of the harbor and are concerned that it [all-tide access] would lead to congestion and that a lot of boat traffic would disrupt the pristine nature of the harbor,” he said.
Both views will have an opportunity to be aired during any planning process that takes place, according to Schatz. While funding may be the largest hurdle, he said, the Army Corps of Engineers likely would schedule a site visit as part of any assessment of the harbor.