Dredging the Kennebec: Federal injunction?

Posted Wednesday, July 27, 2011 in Investigation

Dredging the Kennebec: Federal injunction?

Fiddler's Reach at Morse Cove.

by Gina Hamilton

BATH -- In Bangor Monday, a federal judge listened to arguments brought forth by plaintiffs including the Friends of Merrymeeting Bay, clammers and residents of Phippsburg, and other natural resources groups who allege that the proposed dredging of the Kennebec River at Doubling Point -- and the dumping of the spoils in-river at Fiddler's Reach and just offshore at Jackknife Ledge -- would irreparably harm wildlife and water quality in the river and immediate offshore waters.

It is the plaintiffs' last shot at avoiding a catastrophic river dredging operation to get the U.S.S. Spruance down the river from BIW.

"We learned that the ship is going to Key West for a celebration," Ed Friedman of Friends of Merrymeeting Bay told the New Maine Times.  In Key West, the ship will have to maneuver through a channel less than 500 feet wide -- much narrower than any point on its trip down the Kennebec.

The plaintiffs cite the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act to postpone the dredging, or to at least remove the spoils to a dump site farther offshore.  Friedman said that he is also concerned about the fate of marine mammals in the Kennebec, which can be harmed significantly by the high decibel levels of noise generated by the dredging machinery.

Shellfisheries further downriver are more concerned about their livelihoods.  "The dredging has the potential of closing the clam flats for the whole season," said one clammer. "We were told that the water would have to be tested for heavy metals and other toxins before the clams could be sold."

The shellfish industry is about a $400,000 per year economic boon to the lower Kennebec. Also likely to be impacted are seasonal tourism regions on both sides of the Morse River, as noise and smell drive tourists away from the beaches at high season.

"The judge said he would try to rule by August 1," Friedman said.  "Unfortunately, we were also told that he has to give deference to the agencies, so I can't say our hopes are too high."

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