2017-10-26 / Front Page

BARGING IN

Debris gathered from bottom of river
By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer


Workers from Smith Marine, Inc. arrived Wednesday, Oct. 11 to begin removing debris from the bottom of the Saco River, in preparation for a dredge by the Army Corps of Engineers. The dredge vessel Murden is expected to arrive by Wednesday, Nov. 8. Christine Ohman, grant writer for the city of Biddeford, said many items have been removed so far including old mooring blocks, a toilet and a motorcycle with no engine. (Grant McPherson photo) Workers from Smith Marine, Inc. arrived Wednesday, Oct. 11 to begin removing debris from the bottom of the Saco River, in preparation for a dredge by the Army Corps of Engineers. The dredge vessel Murden is expected to arrive by Wednesday, Nov. 8. Christine Ohman, grant writer for the city of Biddeford, said many items have been removed so far including old mooring blocks, a toilet and a motorcycle with no engine. (Grant McPherson photo) BIDDEFORD/SACO – Before the Army Corps of Engineers can dredge the Saco River this November, the cities of Biddeford and Saco must make sure the riverbed is clear to avoid a previous mistake.

Workers from Smith Marine, Inc. of Marblehead, Massachusetts arrived Wednesday, Oct. 11 on a barge to remove debris from the bottom of the Saco River. The barge consists of a crane and two dumpsters where the trash is unloaded into. The Corps dredge vessel Currituck was damaged almost 25 years ago while it dredged the Saco River because of debris, and that dredge was never finished. Christine Ohman, grant writer and special projects funding coordinator for Biddeford, said the Corps will bring a larger dredge vessel called the Murden just in case. The Murden has a capacity to hold 512 cubic yards of sand, compared to the Currituck’s 315. It is expected to arrive by Wednesday, Nov. 8 at the latest. The total cost of the dredge is projected to be between $3,800,00 and $4,200,000 and paid for entirely by the Army Corps of Engineers.


Biddeford Chief Operating Officer Brian Phinney wrote in an email that one of the initial bidders for the river cleanup had expressed an interest in salvaging wood that was pulled from the river for use by local artists. However, Smith Marine, Inc. has no such plans. “The current plan is for the wood to be disposed of as construction debris,” Phinney wrote. (Grant McPherson photo) Biddeford Chief Operating Officer Brian Phinney wrote in an email that one of the initial bidders for the river cleanup had expressed an interest in salvaging wood that was pulled from the river for use by local artists. However, Smith Marine, Inc. has no such plans. “The current plan is for the wood to be disposed of as construction debris,” Phinney wrote. (Grant McPherson photo) “Our job as a municipality is to make sure the debris path is clear and the Army Corps doesn’t damage any equipment,” she said.


The Maine Coastal Mapping Initiative used camera equipment to survey the riverbed and identify debris. Smith Marine was then able to use this information when they sent divers to mark the debris for removal. Orange buoys floating on the river surface denote an area that Smith Marine will return to and remove an object in the path of the dredge. (Grant McPherson photo) The Maine Coastal Mapping Initiative used camera equipment to survey the riverbed and identify debris. Smith Marine was then able to use this information when they sent divers to mark the debris for removal. Orange buoys floating on the river surface denote an area that Smith Marine will return to and remove an object in the path of the dredge. (Grant McPherson photo) Biddeford’s Chief Operating Officer Brian Phinney wrote in an email to The Courier that Saco and Biddeford will split the $150,000 paid to Smith Marine for the debris removal.

“There is a cost for removal of abandoned overhead cables in the river from years ago that were reportedly ‘dropped’ by CMP,” Phinney wrote. “That portion of the project is $50,000 and the cities plan to seek reimbursement from CMP for that portion. The remaining $100,000 plus disposal will be split between the communities. The cost (of disposal) will be based on the total tons recovered, which will not be known until the project is complete.”

Ohman said the cables from Central Maine Power have been in the river since the late 1960s. Smith Marine is expected to finish cleaning the river by Tuesday, Oct. 31. Smith Marine sent divers into the river ahead of its bid to get a better understanding of what the work would consist of. During debris removal, divers wrap logs, tires and old bicycles in chains, which the crane then lifts out of the water. Ohman expected the removal of the cables to begin soon, but finding them will be difficult.

“They’re buried under silt,” she said. “There’s a lot of flow in that area. I expect they’re down in the mud a bit. They’ll have to dig and figure that out. Hopefully it goes as smoothly as the first part has gone.”

Smith Marine has also had help from Maine Coastal Mapping Initiative, which conducted a study of the river in June 2016 at no cost to either municipality. Ohman estimated the study would cost about $20,000. The Maine Coastal Mapping Initiative identified 47 anomaly areas along the river that indicated large amounts of debris. The 47 areas comprised a total of 8,146 square-meters. The Maine Coast Mapping Initiative was created in 2012 to help Maine’s coastal managers, private industry and academic researchers.

“For them to break out of their busy schedule to come map this debris area was a great thing for the city,” Ohman said. “Making sure this area is safely navigable to any kind of vessel fits in with its mission and purpose.”

The section of the river between Marblehead Boat Launch and the mouth of the river will also have to be cleaned, as the Corps plans to dredge that area in November 2018. The sand from that dredge is expected to be placed at Camp Ellis. Ohman said the Corps also began the planning stages for a dredge between Wood Island and Biddeford Pool. Biddeford city officials wanted to include that work in the current project but were unable to secure the permits quickly enough.

“It’s a once in a generation opportunity for us,” Ohman said. “I know people remember the dredge from 20 years ago. It’s a pretty big deal to prepare and live through it. We want to make sure the right work is done safely and efficiently, that it’s cost effective, meets the needs of the Army Corps and the needs of the city. We’re being very mindful of our timeline and budget and making sure we’re prepared for the Army Corps’ arrival.”

Ohman expects many larger boats traveling up the Saco River once the dredge is complete.

“It opens up a whole new channel of transportation using the river,” she said. “We’re pretty excited about it in the economic development department. We haven’t had safe access to it in a very long time. It couldn’t have happened at a better time.”

Contact staff writer Grant McPherson at news@inthecourier.com

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