The York County government dredge will be headed to Portland soon for assembly and then down to Wells, where it will be moored in advance of dredging season. Courtesy photo/York County EMA Photo

ALFRED — The Ellicott dredge owned by York County government is poised to leave its present location in Saco for Portland in early April, where the vessel will be readied to help coastal communities rebuild beaches and sand dunes devastated by a pair of fierce January storms.

The plan is to assemble and paint the dredge at Portland Pier, and when ready, tow it to Wells where it will be moored until the dredging season commences in November.

York County Manager Greg Zinser said he spoke to seven of the county’s coastal municipalities – Old Orchard Beach, Saco, Biddeford, Kennebunkport, Kennebunk, Wells and Ogunquit about the plans and would also talk with York, Eliot and Kittery officials. Two of the municipalities – Wells and Ogunquit, have dredging permits in place.

He told York County Commissioners at their March 20 meeting that the reception has been positive. “Everyone is saying ‘let’s get this done – let’s make it happen,’” he said.

York County is expected to enter into Memoranda of Understandings with the municipalities, which will pay the county for the work done.

Communities across York County sustained an estimated $20 million in damage to public infrastructure – roads, sidewalks, culverts, beaches, sand dunes and more in the Jan. 10 and 13 storms. In all, there was an estimated $70 million in damage in eight of Maine’s coastal counties.


President Joe Biden in March 20 formally declared a disaster from the two January storms at the request of Gov. Janet Mills. As a result, communities are eligible for reimbursements through the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help cover costs associated with repairs and in some cases, mitigation.

Zinser said he and York County Emergency Management Agency Director Art Cleaves have been speaking with Michels Construction Inc. — the firm that has most recently been dredging in Wells — on logistics and other matters, and have also been working with a consultant. County officials will converse with the University of New England regarding surveys and marine mapping.

Cleaves pointed out that dredging services offered by the county would be more cost efficient than the expenses associated in bringing in a dredge from elsewhere.

Zinser said significant investments in equipment will need to be made, and is working with Michels Construction Inc. to help determine those costs.

York County Commissioners agreed in late 2022 to purchase a dredge, with $1.54 million in American Rescue Plan Act fund, to help combat coastal erosion, nourish beaches with sand, and help keep waters navigable – an idea advanced by the nonprofit SOS Saco Bay.

The intent when the project was approved was that a new nonprofit entity would be created and take ownership, but the authority was not fully operational when the dredge was completed, so the county took ownership. Complications with federal rules of disposition and the like are unresolved, so the county retains ownership.

Commissioner Donna Ring thanked Zinser and the others who have worked on the project. “I know this is not what we intended,” said Ring, referring to the ownership matter.

York County is not the first New England County to offer a dredging program – Barnstable, Massachusetts, has been offering dredging services to municipalities for the past 27 years. According to their website, 14 Cape Cod towns use the service. The 2020 – 2021 season saw 150,591 cubic yards dredged in Barnstable County, a program record for that county, officials said.

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