During the boating season, Hampden harbormaster Peter Neal is used to seeing a few vessels that have run aground in the channel between the town’s public boat launch and the Penobscot River.
Now, the town is eyeing a couple different improvements to its small marina, which is next to the privately owned Hamlin’s Marina. Those improvements would, among other things, help less experienced boaters avoid finding themselves stuck on a sandbar when extremely low tides hit the river.
One of the changes should be in place by this coming boating season. Neal said that the town will post a sign near the boat launch that educates visitors about the need to check a tide chart before launching their vessel and motoring out for the day.
Neal, a retiree who volunteers as Hampden’s harbormaster, is also researching how the town could pursue two larger projects. One of them would help boaters avoid dry ground by dredging out the silt that has accumulated in the channel over the years.
Boats running aground has “become more and more of a problem” as “more and more” silt has filled the channel, Neal said. “A number of times I’ve been down at the docks, the tide is out and some guy is backing his boat out and I have to say, ‘You’re not going fishing.’”
The other project would stabilize the banks of nearby Turtle Head Park, an 8½ acre waterfront space that the town built using funds provided by Chevron Corp. as part of a settlement over oil it spilled into the Penobscot River from the 1950s to the 1980s. Right now, the old pieces of wood that were installed roughly a century ago to hold back those banks are slowly deteriorating and washing out into the river, removing a physical protection for the land and creating hazards for boaters, according to Neal.
However, both projects would require considerable spending and Neal said that he doesn’t plan to “go to the town and ask for a million dollars.” Besides working to implement the short-term fix of posting a sign near the marina, he is also researching what state and federal grants would be available to help fund that work.
He also plans to work closely with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — which originally dredged out Hampden’s channel — and the Maine Department of Environmental, which would have to approve the projects.
Before being able to dredge the channel, Neal said, the town would have to remove soil samples and have them tested for contamination such as mercury. That part of the project could cost up to $150,000, while the rest of it could cost many times more.
Besides helping boaters who use the town’s boat launch, Neal said, the dredging project would also help the bottom line of Hamlin’s Marina, a local taxpayer that relies on the launch but that can’t use it when the tide is very low.
Neal is also researching the costs and benefits of improving the shoreline protections along Turtle Head Park. That effort will be important because the park is home to a number of artifacts that date back to the region’s days as a hub of lumbering and that should be protected, according to the harbormaster.