Bion Pike on the Dock

Manchester Harbormaster Bion Pike greets paying customers seeking to dock at Reed Park.  The new docks are located on flats that, not long ago, stranded boats before the town completed dredging in 2018.

This follows a July 19th article on the report to the Northeast Coastal Coalition exploring shared dredging for communities from Manchester and Essex up to the New Hampshire border.

This past month, a summit addressing an ambitious idea took place in Essex when the Northeast Coastal Coalition, a group formed by Massachusetts Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr and others, met to hear results of an initial study of options for cooperatively addressing a big, common challenge: dredging coastal waterways.

It’s something that all of the communities in the coalition need, from Manchester to Essex, Gloucester, Merrimack, Plum Island, Newburyport and up to Salisbury.  But the “flavor” of those needs varies. Essex and Annisquam, for instance, have a strong interest in dredging for coastal fortification in particular. Manchester’s requirements are more traditional, with the primary need being maintenance of water depth for proper access. And still others, like Newburyport, have a blended profile and therefore blended needs.

So, exactly how does this discussion affect Manchester-by-the-Sea, which just completed a $1.3 million dredging project in late 2018? 

Manchester Harbormaster Bion Pike said as with Essex, the need for dredging was apparent in Manchester in 2017 when boats, particularly deep-draft vessels, were unable to make it into the harbor at low tide.  It had been 30 years since Manchester’s last dredging, and there were occasionally low water problems for vessels accessing Manchester Marine and Crocker’s Boat Yard. In the end, the town and the two marinas cooperated on their dredging needs and turned a $1.5 million project into a $1.3 million one, by sharing expensive mobilization costs.  Then, the state provided $500 thousand to offset the town’s end.

And despite Manchester’s dredging success a year ago, the town has already identified areas in in need of further dredging — “It was very much a partial dredge,” said Pike — particularly Proctor Cove, across from the Tuck’s Point rotunda.  

The estimated cost for the next dredging — targeted for six or seven years from now — is approximately $6 million, a cost that Pike says Manchester is simply unable to meet on its own. As of now, the state will potentially fund up to $2.5 million dollars for the dredging project, according to Pike.  Cooperation, therefore, makes sense.  

Ideally, towns like Manchester or Essex would undergo the process of dredging at least once every 10 years.  For Manchester’s needs, Pike said, each dredging should ideally tackle at least 25 percent of the harbor. That is approximately the amount taken in 2018, targeting key areas in the inner harbor.  Just two years ago, boats were running aground in the inner harbor at Reed Park. Today, the new docks built from a $327 thousand U.S. Fish and Wildlife grant can easily accommodate paying vessels that want to “dock and shop.”  And, so far this season, the docks have been full for each week of nice weather.

Might there be potential for a regionalized dredging approach, in order to reduce costs for future projects?  Well, current options for the Northeast Coastal Coalition range from purchasing and maintaining a shared fleet to forming something of a “buying club” with our neighbors and putting out a massive RFP (“request for proposal”) to dredging companies who may be interested in a guaranteed baseline of business for 10 or 20 years.

Regardless of how it’s done, regionalization can lead to benefits.  For one, communities that share equipment can save on the cost of mobilizing massive pieces of specialized equipment and barges, which can be extremely expensive. In Manchester, according to Pike, mobilization costs alone accounted for about $250 thousand in last year’s dredging project.  It also may be cheaper per cubic yard to own and operate dredging equipment or put a dredging company on retainer all year round.

Pike stated that creative approaches are great, but so is caution.  After all, each body of water, from the Essex River to the Gloucester Harbor or the Annisquam River, has varying factors that may require different dredging strategies or equipment. “There is no cookie cutter approach,” said Pike. But the fundamental idea of a regionalized or shared approach has tremendous value even if it’s limited.  After all, if a shared strategy saves just a portion of the overall cost, that’s less money for the state to pick up, which is good news for everyone. 

“If we discover that a regional dredging approach — potentially with owning equipment — will save money in say, eight communities of thirty, then that leaves more money for the other twenty-two,” said Pike.