The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has agreed to conduct emergency dredging operations along a stretch of the lower Kennebec River between Phippsburg and Bath.
The work is designed to ensure the safe passage along the 500-foot-wide river channel of Navy destroyers built at Bath Iron Works. The ships enter the Atlantic Ocean at the mouth of the Kennebec River near Popham Beach.
All four members of Maine’s congressional delegation announced Tuesday that the dredging operations would start as soon as possible, in order to restore the shipping channel to safe operating depths before the USS Rafael Peralta departs for sea trials April 27.
“Ensuring that Navy destroyers can safely navigate the Kennebec River between Bath and the Atlantic Ocean is absolutely critical to the operations at BIW as well as to our national defense,” the delegation said in a press release. “We are pleased that the Army Corps of Engineers is moving expeditiously to perform this dredging, which will allow ships built by BIW’s skilled workforce to travel the river safely and reliably.”
Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, along with Reps. Chellie Pingree and Bruce Poliquin, sent a letter to the Army Corps last November asking for help after concerns were raised that the channel was below authorized navigation channel depth.
In their letter, the delegation members said river soundings revealed areas as shallow as 18 feet, significantly below the recommended channel depth of 27 feet. Those shallow conditions prevented the Navy destroyer from making a scheduled September sea trial.
The dredging project will begin April 19 and take about three to five weeks to complete. The Army Corps estimates that it will have to remove 70,000 cubic yards of sand from Doubling Point, a bend in the river near the town of Arrowsic, and from the mouth of the river near Popham Beach.
The Kennebec River was last dredged in 2011.