A document reviewing state dredging procedures and making recommendations for future dredge disposal is nearing completion, and may help citizens and communities in navigating the twisty processes of dredging regulations affecting local construction and harbor projects. Dredging procedures affect both public and private projects, from the recent deepening of Portland harbor to individual fishing piers. There are currently approximately 70 federally approved dredging projects in Maine.

A coalition of state regulators and citizens groups, the Dredge Management Action Plan Oversight Committee has reviewed existing state and federal regulations and procedures (primarily the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection) and considered the future needs of the state. Their recommendations are intended to protect the marine environment while maintaining coastal access for ships and boats in communities up and down the coast.

This committee had its genesis two years ago, spurred in part by the Maine Department of Transportation’s unveiling of its plan to rebuild the dilapidated Mack Point cargo piers in Searsport.

The original Mack Point plan involved disposal of 375,000 cubic yards of dredge spoils at a disposal site off Rockland, but concerns of fishermen, environmental groups, and Penobscot Bay residents brought it down (WWF-IIN May, 2000). A better-received plan reduced the amount of dredge spoils to be disposed of at the site, and called for dumping contaminated spoils at an onshore site.

After this lengthy and costly process of developing a new plan, it was hoped that this review of dredging and dredge spoils disposal in state waters would assist all parties in understanding and facilitating the dredging process.

Under the recommendations, the controversial Rockland Ocean Disposal Site (which was one of the main reasons for the protest against the Mack Point dredging plan) remains open, but it is recognized as an area of significant lobster migration and fishing. A winter “window” for spoils dumping is recommended, in order to minimize the impact on lobster populations and fishing. The report notes that the site still has an estimated capacity of over 4.5 million cubic yards of material, and that a little under 1 million cubic yards of material have been disposed of there since 1985. There are two other active disposal sites in Maine, one near Portland and another off Cape Arundel.

The report also proposes creating a new Maine Dredged Material Management Office, which would be a point of contact for dredging projects to facilitate project reviews, permitting and implementation. The Committee modeled this group on similar groups that oversee the dredging process in San Francisco Bay, Puget Sound and Los Angeles. Entitled the Dredge Management Action Plan, this report is to be finalized soon, and is to be presented to the legislature next year by the state Department of Transportation.