2014-10-03 / Front Page

Selectmen put off wharf dredge vote

Water depth has decreased to 5 feet at high tide in some areas
By Alex Acquisto
Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — The Kennebunk Board of Selectmen deferred voting on proposed dredging at Government Wharf until the Oct. 14 meeting.

The project was initially introduced in the summer as a means to provide better public access where the depth of the water has decreased to about 5 feet during high tide in some areas, Harbormaster Ray Billings told the board at the Sept. 23 meeting. This creates a small window of time for boats to get back in before the water becomes too shallow.

“At high tide, you might have 5 feet of water there, so a bigger sailboat doesn’t have much time,” said Billings. “You’re very limited on time.”

“I just want to state how important this is because it’s the only public access to the river that we have, unfortunately ... it’s used by Kennebunk residents that have moorings in the river. We have transient people coming in that want to use the docks. It’s very important that we get this dredge because we’re going to lose the entire float system,” Billings told the board last Tuesday.

Government Wharf extends into the Kennebunk River, which separates Kennebunk and Kennebunkport. The towns share the river and residents from both towns pay to moor their boats in the area, making the project a collaborative effort. Because dredging would increase the depth of that portion of the river, a public landing dock would likely be built at the location, as it is “important for the public river activity,” according to the board’s agenda.

“Ray, my apprehension is, I want to promote Kennebunk. This dock is in Kennebunkport. Kennebunk people or visitors could use this, but we’re going to deposit them in Kennebunkport,” said Selectman John Kotsonis. “My thought is, I would better like to see the money that is put forth into obtaining some dock space on the Kennebunk side of the river so that when we have people who want to visit Kennebunk, they’re pulling up and we’re depositing them in Kennebunk rather than Kennebunkport.”

Kennebunk has no more vacant parcels to devote to a project, Billings said. He said the only option is to deposit visitors and residents on the Kennebunkport side.

Billings referenced Kennebunk’s missed opportunity to have a “beautiful river site” on Doane’s Wharf. “There is no place left on the Kennebunk side that can be a public access,” Billings said.

Selectman Chris Cluff told Kotsonis, “John, I completely agree, we should be looking out for Kennebunk, but we’re one community: Kennebunk- Kennebunkport; we share the river. The economic impact that river brings to both communities is beneficial on all sides. Thirty thousand dollars is a small price to pay to improve something that we haven’t improved before.”

Billings added, “We want to look out for ourselves, but we are looking out for ourselves with this investment.”

Since Government Wharf is not located in a navigable channel of the Kennebunk River, grant money is not an option.

The dredging itself will, then, be largely – if not completely – subsidized by mooring fees collected annually from those who moor their boats in the river.

Boat owners are required to pay an annual fee of $150, which is deposited in to an account reserved for dredging costs. Approximately $30,000 of the total $70,000 that has been accrued over the years.

“There’s approximately 20 Kennebunk residents who have moorings in the river, for a total of approximately 60 moorings in the (Kennebunk) River,” Billings said. “The mooring fees over the years that they have paid (are) for future dredging. This is something good to (that is) taking place.”

Dredging, if approved, will occur in conjunction with the formation of a sea wall as a precautionary measure to prolong the need for future dredging.

The corrugated sheet-pile retaining wall would be about three-quarters of an inch thick, Billings said. The retaining wall would be the more expensive venture, costing between $135,000 and $165,000.

Although grant money is not available, the towns will seek state funding to purchase dredging equipment for the project. It is unclear how much, if any, will be provided however.

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