If a federal contractor fails to finish dredging the Scarborough River within a week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will make sure the $1.7 million project gets done as early as next fall, the project manager said Monday.

The contractor, North America Landscaping, Construction & Dredge Co., was expected to start dredging sand in early January and finish by March 31. Dredging after April 1 is prohibited, to avoid interrupting shorebird nesting.

The contractor didn’t start dredging until mid-February, and as of Monday had removed only about 15,000 of 115,000 cubic yards of sand from the navigational channel, which serves 35 commercial fishermen and hundreds of recreational boaters.

If the dredging project isn’t completed on time, the Army Corps may extend the contract so the company can resume dredging in November or hire another company to complete the job, said Michael Walsh, project manager for the corps.

“I will be working to get it done as soon as possible,” Walsh said. “I am committed to fulfilling the interests of the agency, the taxpayers and the boating public.”

No one answered the phone Monday at North America Landscaping, Construction & Dredge’s headquarters in Ellicott City, Md.

The company is pumping the sand onto Western Beach to restore vital piping plover habitat and natural protection of the Prouts Neck Country Club that has washed away in recent years. However, a permit from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection prohibits dredging and beach work from April 1 to Sept. 15, to avoid impacting shorebird nesting and development.

Scarborough officials said they want the project completed as soon as possible because 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 tidal action have left the harbor largely impassable at low tide.

The river hosts 100 town moorings for recreational boaters and 85 moorings for the Prouts Neck Country Club, and more than 100 transient boaters visit the harbor each summer weekend, said Dave Corbeau, Scarborough’s marine resource officer.

Town officials said the contractor got a late start, experienced some foul weather and tidal surges, had several equipment breakdowns and didn’t work around the clock, as other dredging companies have done.

Walsh declined to comment on the company’s performance while its contract for the Scarborough River project is in effect. He did say that the contract requires the company to finish the job by March 31. After that date, marine surveyors will determine how much of the project has been completed, and lawyers for the Army Corps will review the project to determine the next steps. The contractor would not face any penalties for missing the deadline.

The contract may be extended so the company can resume dredging in November, Walsh said. Otherwise, it will be paid for the dredging that has been completed and the Army Corps will seek bids for a new contract to complete the project in the fall.

He said, “The money that we don’t spend now will be used to complete the project in the near future.”

Walsh said the Army Corps had planned to start the dredging project in November, but another company contested North America Landscaping, Construction & Dredge’s low bid, so the contract wasn’t awarded until December.

The contractor has “performed adequately” on other Army Corps dredging projects, Walsh said, but they were smaller jobs that didn’t have such critical deadlines and weren’t “on the Maine coast in the middle of winter.”

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

kbouchard@pressherald.com

Twitter: KelleyBouchard