SCARBOROUGH — The dredging of the Scarborough River is unlikely to be finished by a Monday, March 31, deadline, pushing the project’s completion back until at least next fall.
A total of 115,000 cubic yards of sand was supposed to be removed from the river, but according to estimates from town officials, probably only 20,000 cubic yards have been removed in the last two months of work.
Due to environmental and permit limits, dredging can only take place between the beginning of November and the end of March. Regardless of how much sand has been dredged from the harbor, the contractor, North America Landscaping, Construction & Dredge Co., must begin packing up Tuesday.
The river, which was last dredged in 2005, is home to 35 commercial fishermen and more than 100 recreational boaters who have difficulty navigating the shallows at low tide, according to Marine Resources Officer Dave Corbeau.
“My guys can’t go out at low tide, there’s less than a foot (of water) in some of these places,” Corbeau said. “Getting stuck and losing that time and sitting there isn’t fun.”
Mike Walsh, project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, attributed the expected failure to harsh weather and complications in the initial contract that delayed the start of the dredging.
Dredging of the river was scheduled to begin after the contract was awarded in October, but the vetting process delayed the contract signing until December. Walsh said paperwork took another several weeks to complete, preventing the contractor from mobilizing in Scarborough until Feb. 1.
But even with two months to go, Walsh and Corbeau both believe the project could have been completed by now.
“The last time it was dredged, in 2005, we moved 85,000 cubic yards in one month. With the right equipment and weather, certainly you can do 115,000 in a month and a half,” Walsh said.
Corbeau suggested that the contractors were not dredging at full capacity (10-24 hours a day) most days of the week when they began because of bad weather.
“Let’s face it, it’s the coast of Maine,” he said.
NALCO recently asserted work would be done around the clock to try to make up time. But even if the workload has been steadier over the past few weeks, Corbeau said he finds it highly doubtful the job would be finished in the few days left.
Town Manager Tom Hall said he had no expectation that the dredge would be done in time, although he said he felt “comforted” by Walsh’s assurance that the Army Corps is still dedicated to finishing the project this year in the fall, and that money will remain with the project.
“That’s the best we could hope for,” he said.
Whether the same contractor will return to continue the dredging in the fall is not known.
“My strong sense is that they’ll probably look to bring in a different contractor, just based on the performance we’ve seen,” Hall said.
NALCO officials, based in Maryland, could not be reached for comment. Walsh described them as a “small, family-run outfit.”
“They have been very agreeable, pleasant people to work with, and they’re really trying their hardest,” Walsh said.
Despite inconveniences caused by the incomplete dredging, including the task of moving moorings again in the fall, Hall said he continues to look on the bright side.
“I’m still thankful we were able to secure financing in the first place,” he said. “It’s not tragic; we’ll survive another season.”