Critics Warn Bath Iron Works River Dredging Could Threaten Wildlife

By Brogan, Beth | Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME), March 16, 2017 | Go to article overview

Critics Warn Bath Iron Works River Dredging Could Threaten Wildlife


Brogan, Beth, Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME)


BATH, Maine -- A new proposal to conduct "emergency" Kennebec River channel dredging next month to allow a Bath Iron Works destroyer to depart has prompted those who work and live on the river to voice concerns about the impact and timing of the project.

The work is slated to take place just as federally protected migratory fish -- notably Atlantic salmon and shortnose sturgeon -- begin to spawn in the riverbed. It's also sparked fears of contamination among riverfront property owners and shellfish harvesters.

Many of those frustrated and worried about the planned dredging have been through this before and in 2011 went to federal court to appeal -- unsuccessfully -- a permit allowing dredging that year.

Dredging of the federal navigation channel has been rumored for months, but until Tuesday, neither a shipyard spokesman nor the Army Corps of Engineers would confirm the work was planned for this spring. On Tuesday, the Corps issued a public request for comment about the proposal, as required by the Clean Water Act of 1977, noting that the dredging is slated to begin April 19 to allow the future USS Rafael Peralta, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, to sail from Bath Iron Works in late April.

According to the announcement -- which solicits public comment on the proposal for an abbreviated two-week period because of the emergency designation -- shoals, or "massive sand waves," have accumulated in the 27-foot deep, 500-foot wide federal navigation channel between the shipyard and Popham Beach, prompting concerns that without dredging, the Peralta could not navigate the river, even during high tide.

Bad timing

As proposed, the three- to five-week operation would remove about 50,000 cubic yards of "clean sand" from Doubling Point, just south of Bath, and deposit it downriver just north of Bluff Head in Phippsburg. In addition, about 20,000 cubic yards of material dredged from the mouth of the river near Popham Beach in Phippsburg would be deposited a half-mile south of Jackknife Ledge, an area known as a "prime inshore lobster areas" between Popham Beach and Sequin Island.

But parties who appealed the 2011 dredge permit expressed concern this week with the current proposal, arguing that migratory fish begin "major spawning activity" at the end of April and beginning of May. They also reiterated concerns about the two disposal sites and about the "emergency" designation prompting a rushed permitting process.

Ed Friedman, a Bowdoinham guide and president of Friends of Merrymeeting Bay, said in an email Wednesday, "FOMB remains very concerned about the effects of dredging on migratory fish species in particular, for which the river is federally designated as a 'significant wildlife habitat.' The earlier the dredging, the less impact on these species."

Dot Kelly, whose Phippsburg home overlooks the disposal site, was among the plaintiffs in 2011.

"It's a complicated, vibrant ecosystem," Kelly, a former director of energy and environmental science at a major pharmaceutical company, said of the proposed disposal area, which is near the Phippsburg Land Trust property known as the Greenleaf Easement. "If I thought it was unimpactful, I wouldn't be making an issue, but I do think it's impactful. I do see the birds out on the river. I see the seals. And shellfishermen have said for years that it impacts our [seeding] ability the next year [after a dredge]. There's been no rigorous study, so it's a difficult situation, but the clam flats are downstream of what's disposed up here."

David Gray, chairman of the Phippsburg Shellfish Commission -- also a party to the suit -- said in February that the clam flats take "a real significant hit" for years after a dredge, though he acknowledged he has no formal data to support this.

"When they dredge the bottom of that, who knows what they're stirring up after decades of logging and paper mills and sewer treatment plants up the river? …

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