April 07, 2020

Wells, conservationists reach accord on dredging

WELLS — Local officials and conservationists say they have reached an agreement on a compromise dredging plan for Wells Harbor that would provide anchorage for 150 boats and protect an ecologically significant sandbar.

The accord puts to rest a dispute that first surfaced in September after the town sought to create mooring space for 200 to 250 boats by dredging 250,000 yards of sand from the harbor.

The revised plan, which reduces the quantity of sand to 180,000 cubic yards, was the culmination of five months of complex negotiations involving the town, environmental groups, the Army Corps of Engineers and various government agencies.

The plan requires approval by the state Department of Environmental Protection and town voters before dredging can begin.

“This is a viable harbor proposal,” said Town Attorney Catherine O’Connor, “and this is probably the best you could do, getting a dredge any time in this century.”

The Maine Audubon Society had balked at the initial plan to dredge the sandbar, which it characterized as the geologically stabilizing feature of the Webhannet Estuary. The group cited potential harm to fish and wildlife habitat.

Under the compromise, the sandbar will be placed in a conservation easement. The town and the Army Corps of Engineers will supervise a five-year monitoring of salt marshes for signs of erosion. The results will be used to determine the impact of the dredge and the extent of any future dredging.

Anthony Cilluffo, the chairman of the Board of Selectmen, hailed the plans as “probably the most collaborative effort anywhere on the coastline … between a municipality and environmentalists.”

U.S. Rep. Tom Allen said the plan balances environmental and commercial considerations.

“This agreement provides for both a safe harbor with the capacity to meet commercial and recreational needs and an ecologically sensitive management approach that will enhance the environment,” Allen wrote in a letter to the town and the Audubon Society.

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