SCARBOROUGH — Nearly three months after a federal contractor was expected to start dredging the Scarborough River, town officials say the $1.7 million project is way behind schedule and likely won’t be completed by its March 31 deadline.

The contractor, NALCO – North America Landscaping, Construction & Dredge Co. – got a late start, had several equipment breakdowns and failed to operate continuously as expected to get the project done on time, town officials said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hired NALCO to dredge 115,000 cubic yards of sand from the river’s navigation channel and pump it onto Western Beach, reopening free passage for the town’s commercial fishermen and recreational boaters. The project also would restore vital piping plover habitat and natural protection of the Prouts Neck Country Club that had washed away in recent years.

By Friday, a little more than 10,000 cubic yards had been pumped onto the beach, town officials said. A state permit requires dredging to stop before April 1 to avoid an impact on shorebird nesting activity.

“At this point, there’s no hope or expectation that they’ll finish the dredge in time,” said Town Manager Tom Hall.

Michael Walsh, project manager for the Army Corps, didn’t respond to repeated calls for comment Thursday and Friday. No one answered the phone Friday at NALCO’s headquarters in Ellicott City, Md.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection granted permits for the project last summer that prohibit dredging or beach work between April 1 and Sept. 15, when it may interfere with shorebird nesting and development. The agreements are effective through 2016.

Town officials said it’s unclear whether the dredging project will resume later this year or early next year, and that maintaining a maximum 8-foot-deep navigation channel and a 6-foot-deep anchorage area is critical to the town’s economy. Since the last dredge in 2005, river silting and Saco Bay tidal action have left the harbor largely impassable at low tide.

The Scarborough River is home to 35 commercial fishermen and 100 recreational boaters, said Dave Corbeau, the town’s marine resource officer. Prouts Neck Country Club has 85 additional moorings, and more than 100 transient boaters visit the harbor each summer weekend.

The Army Corps opened bids last fall and seemed to “sit on them” for months before the project was allowed to proceed, Hall said. NALCO got the project because it was the lowest bidder, he said, but got off to a late start.

NALCO was expected to begin dredging by Jan. 6, according to an Army Corps news release, but the company didn’t start pumping sand until mid-February, Corbeau said. It has operated sporadically since then, in part because of foul weather, tidal surges and equipment breakdowns.

With a looming deadline, the company recently promised to operate 24 hours a day in an effort to finish on time, town officials said.

But Corbeau was surprised, he said, that NALCO didn’t appear to be dredging around the clock from the start, as proposed in the DEP permits. That’s what other companies have done in the past, said Corbeau, who has overseen four dredging projects in 19 years.

Southwind Construction Corp. of Evansville, Ind., operated around the clock when it dredged the Scarborough River last time, pulling up 90,000 to 100,000 cubic yards in 30 days, Corbeau said. He noted that Southwind also dredged Wells Harbor late last year, pumping 138,000 cubic yards in November and December.

Corbeau and Hall said they’re disappointed that the Scarborough dredge likely won’t be completed this spring, so boats will continue to have difficulty navigating the river this year.

Corbeau also faces the daunting and time-consuming challenge of returning the town’s moorings to the river this spring, only to remove them again when the dredging project resumes later this year or early next year.

On Sunday, NALCO’s dredging barge was still off Prouts Neck and Pine Point, well beyond the mouth of the Scarborough River and about a mile from the town’s anchorage area.

“I’m no fool,” Corbeau said. “I know they’re not going to finish.”

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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