SACO — More than 5,500 dump truck loads of material has been removed from the federal navigation channel from the Saco River over the past two dredging seasons.

The Saco River originates in New Hampshire and serves as a natural border between the cities of Saco and Biddeford, emptying into the Atlantic Ocean.

A federal navigation channel that runs from the Saco and Biddeford downtowns to the mouth of the river had last been dredged in 1992, prior to the Army Corps beginning a two-phase project in 2017 to dredge the channel. The project was completed over two winter seasons and in total cost about $8 million.

Over the past two dredging seasons, work done by the U.S. Army Corps dredge MURDEN and H&L Contracting, Inc. LLC, of Bay Shore, New York, removed about 110,800 cubic yards, or about 5,540 dump trucks loads of shoal material from the federal navigation channel, according to U.S. Army Corps spokesman Tim Dugan.

Of that total, about 48,800 cubic yards were removed from the area near the city centers of Biddeford and Saco, and about 62,000 cubic yards were removed from the mouth of the river, said Dugan.

The 62,000 cubic yards of material removed from the mouth of the river were placed on the beaches of Saco to replenish sand lost in an area prone to erosion.

An unanticipated consequence of this beach replenishment was a large amount of woody debris being deposited on the beach in addition to the sand, as the dredge hit pockets of woody material more extensive than what was shown in prior sampling, said Dugan.

Bayview Beach in Saco was covered with a layer of driftwood, the result of a nearby dredging operation. The phenomenon attracted many collectors to the beach. Liz Gotthelf/Journal Tribune

The driftwood drew many people to Saco’s coast in a what is normally a quiet season at the beach, People came down to see the curiosity or collect pieces of wood for craft projects.

City officials stressed to the Army Corps that the driftwood needed to be cleaned off the beach before May 1, to ensure the beach was clear of the woody debris in time for warmer weather when more people start visiting the beach.

The Army Corps finished cleaning the woody debris on April 26, said Dugan, and transported it to Ecomaine in Portland to use for power generation in its waste to energy facility.

Dugan did not have an estimate for how much driftwood ended up on the Saco shore.

“Wood debris was interspersed with sandy shoal material being dredged from the harbor so it’s hard to estimate the full amount,” he said.

Some of the wood was carried north to the beach in Ocean Park over a number of storm events and tidal cycles north along the coast while the sand has stayed local to Saco, said Dugan. Dugan said the Army Corps did not have the proper agreements in place to access areas north of Saco to clean up debris.

Old Orchard Beach Town Manager Larry Mead said if there was debris left in Old Orchard Beach and the Army Corps did not clean it up, the town would do what it could to clean it up.

On Thursday afternoon, it appeared that much of the driftwood in Ocean Park had washed away.

— Staff Writer Liz Gotthelf can be reached at 780-9015 or by email at [email protected]

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