Dredging Up The Dirt


Hard to believe, but true: the Sacred Bird, aka the piping plover, is holding up the Scarborough River dredging project. First, a brief review of the salient facts:

  •  The dredging project is running behind schedule. Contributing factors have been a late start due to contract approval issues, brutal weather and equipment problems. (There is also a hint of a suggestion that the contractor hasn’t been working hard or long enough on the project. Having seen them at work at all hours of the day, seven days a week, and in all sorts of inhumane weather, I personally discount that suggestion.)
  •  The project contract and Maine DEP permit require that the work be completed by March 31.
  • Why March 31? You already know the answer to that question… That’s the date that USFWS and MDIFW specify as the beginning of piping plover season.
  • Since the project will not be completed by the hard deadline of March 31, the US Army Corps of Engineers is evaluating how best to schedule the completion of the project – either this fall or after the beginning of 2015 (while the Sacred Bird is catching its breath in the Bahamas).

dogblog-cost per bird

Pampering Piper Plovers – At What Cost?

I am not an engineer. In fact, high school physics was touch and go for me. But I do have a pretty good sense that there will be a significant additional cost involved with stopping the project on March 31 and restarting it again later in the year with a new contractor, versus simply extending the deadline of the current contractor by a few weeks.

To start a completely new project with a new contractor to finish the dredge in October or January will involve significant additional start-up and breakdown costs that would not be incurred by simply letting the current contractor finish the job in April. Among these additional costs would be going through another contract awarding process, transporting another barge and piping to the site, setting the new equipment up (it took the current contractor at least a couple of weeks to put all the pieces together in January), coordinating the work that has been done with the remaining work, breaking down the barge and equipment and shipping it back to its home base.

So while there won’t be any change in the total amount of sand dredged in the project, there will be significant front- and back-end costs associated with adding a second phase to the project. What might that cost be? $25,000? $50,000? More? I don’t the answer to that question. I certainly hope that someone is at least asking that question. Until a knowledgeable party provides a reasonable estimate of the additional costs involved in adding a second phase to the project as opposed to extending the current contractor’s deadline, here, for discussion purposes, is my estimate of the minimum additional costs involved with not extending the March 31 deadline – $25,000.

[Mr. Kim: If you are reading this, please contact me.  I would like to hear your side of the story, as well as an estimate of how much longer it will take to complete the contracted work.  TTH]

Western Beach as a Piping Plover Summer Destination: “Meh”

Let’s face it, the piping plovers have never really embraced Western Beach as prime habitat, despite the Prouts Neck cachet.  Never has it made Plover Travel & Leisure Magazine’s “Top Twenty Beaches in Maine” list.  In fact – to use some real data – Western Beach has a very spotty record as a plover destination.  According to Audubon data, there have been exactly zero nesting attempts on Western Beach during the last three years. Not one. Zilch. Nada. And a total of only three nesting attempts there in the three-year period before that. Doesn’t sound like very crucial plover habitat, does it?

Beach nourishment in process.

Beach nourishment in process.

Not sure this is the color sand the Sacred Bird prefers...

Not sure this is the color sand the Sacred Bird prefers…

Just how much sand is 115,000 cubic yards?

Just how much sand is 115,000 cubic yards?

Last day of dredging -- March 31!

Last day of dredging — March 31!

Just How Dumb “Instinctually Challenged” Are the Little Guys?

So, at the moment, Western Beach is a mess – huge, unnatural piles of sand; heavy equipment rattling around all day; the constant and loud rattling sound of the sand pumping equipment and a huge and ever-present flock of gulls attending the sand outflow pipe at the water’s edge. It’s hard to imagine a more inhospitable piece of habitat for a piping plover. While a few hundred feet away – as the natural predator flies – is a relatively quiet and nutrient-rich stretch of Pine Point Beach. Why would any plover that had a microliter of survival instinct consider nesting on Western Beach in its current state when Pine Point Beach sits placidly across the Scarborough River entrance?

dogblog-threatened speciesWhat goes around, comes around…

Those of you who have been following the goings-on involving the piping plover and Scarborough beaches since the beginning of this issue will recall that this is not the first time the harbor dredge project has been threatened by the Sacred Bird. In fact, delaying the dredge was the first club the USFWS used on the Town in their fanatical efforts to keep dogs off our beaches. At that time, some Town officials had their knickers in a frightful twist at the prospect of a delay in the dredge – they cited the inability of fishermen to get their boats in and out of the harbor if the dredge wasn’t completed this winter.
Things must have changed somehow in the last few months, since — at least based on media reports — not a peep has been heard from Councilors or the Town Manager about the possibility of extending the dredge deadline for a few weeks.  Apparently defending the livelihood of the Town’s fishermen was only important when banning off-leash dogs on the beach was part of the deal.  Interesting.  And appalling, too, that apparently no Town leader even dares to raise the possibility of standing up to USFWS/MDIFW and extending the dredge deadline.

Patting Myself on the Back and Kicking Myself in the @¢¢

Although I was early in identifying the dredge as being behind schedule, my conclusion on the result of the delay was totally off the mark.  As you will recall, in the last blog entry I predicted a major panic when it became clear that the dredge project would not be completed on time.  Wrong.  No need for panic… the March 31 deadline is sacrosanct, inviolable, untouchable.  We are, after all, talking about the Sacred Bird. He shall not be inconvenienced.

So the only handwringing has been about how best to respond to the needs of Scarborough’s fishermen and recreational boaters in a manner that minimizes the fact that their needs are clearly secondary to those of the piping plover. I made a rookie mistake – I assumed that the dredge project was being directed by reasonable people using common sense. Obviously experience has taught me nothing.

"I'm listening to reason..."
“I’m listening to reason…”


Just How Dumb Lacking in Common Sense Are We?

To summarize, then:

  • Western Beach has never been high on the piping plover’s nesting radar. No nesting attempts have been made there in the past three years. (Now that’s SCIENCE!)
  • Any bird with half a brain checking out Western Beach in its current disrupted state would quickly choose nearby Pine Point Beach as a preferred nesting site. (More Science!)
  • Taxpayers will foot a significant bill — $25,000 or perhaps much more — for not extending the dredge timeline. All to allow the Sacred Bird the opportunity to grace us with its presence. We may or may not be honored by his presence. (Economics!)
  • Scarborough fishermen will be put at unnecessary risk and inconvenience for the spring and summer, on the off chance that a plover plunks his or her adorable little tush down on Western Beach. (Politics!)

Please wake me when this nightmare is over.




13 thoughts on “Dredging Up The Dirt

  1. Scott Irving (@scottirving)

    And I wonder if anyone has thought to check where the sacred bird is on it’s travels to Maine. Given the weather is there the slightest chance that one will touch down in the next few days? Or are the still south of New Jersey, perhaps with a weather induced lane closure?

    It would seem common sense to check before stopping the dredging project. Does the data (science) show what the distribution of arrival dates are historically, can we look at those dates and the weather for those years and project when the little guys will show? Again this seems like common sense, so it probably isn’t going to happen.

    1. tthannah Post author

      Great idea. We’d have to check with our friends at Audubon for that particular bit of science. I’m not sure they’d want to assist in this matter. Besides, as you point out, common sense is definitely in short supply when it comes to piping plover management.

    1. tthannah Post author

      Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it. Like sand being pumped on Western Beach, the material keeps flowing… Let’s hope we can “renourish” Town government.

  2. R Woodburn

    Other Threatened Species
    Town Council Members that may not get reelected Sullivan, Benedict, and St Clair

    1. tthannah Post author

      Good point! I would have thought that the ordinance overturn vote might have had an impact, but most of the Councilors still appear to think that there’s just a “small, vocal group” at work here. They misinterpret at their own risk… Thanks for the comment!

  3. Wake up Scarborough

    Just know that Bill Donovan is the ring leader behind all of this. He and Tom Hall have orchestrated this all along. Donovan wants to ensure that Higgins beach becomes semi-private and will stop at nothing to accomplish that.

    Tom Hall is his confidant and puppet and will make sure all the puzzle pieces fit for Donovan’s plan, just like he did with the Ad Hoc Committee.

    Until Donovan is replaced, this will just keep going.

    Ask Donovan and Hall why the tax payers of Scarborough funded an $8,000 fence around Bill Donovan’s property at Bill Donovan’s request. The fence doesn’t even meet code and Tom Hall wrote the check out of the town budget. $8,000 of tax payer money to fortify the Donovan enclave.

    1. tthannah Post author

      Thanks for the comment. “The fence” certainly gets a lot of attention. I’m pretty sure there’s a humorous/ironic aspect to “the fence” that hasn’t been highlighted yet. If I can confirm it, I’ll work it into the next blog entry.

      Also, wasn’t Donovan the “fiscally responsible” candidate or did I imagine that? And yet Tom Hall delivers a Town budget that reflects an 8+% increase. Huh?

  4. Suzanne Foley-Ferguson

    This blog piece is very important. I, too, have been to the dredge more than a few times and spoken to the officials at Ferry Beach. I know that the Town Councilors are following this blog, but I wonder if they have visited the dredge?. I hope they are following these comments as well because I’m not sure they’re listening to me or anyone else anymore about beaches and dog owners at the meetings and I’m about to make a suggestion:

    Dear Town Councilors and Town Manager, Please be leaders in this community, and SAVE taxpayer’s money (even if most of it is Federal…it’s still ours). Only YOU CAN do this….not us measly taxpayers. Please, please, please contact our Senators and Reps and the USFWS and Army Corps and make this dredge continue! What a waste of time and money if this doesn’t keep going, for all of the reasons written in this blog. We know (as Audubon has already said and USFWS has indicated) that it is very unlikely that any bird would want to nest on Western Beach this year. In fact, the data shows that a dredge can destroy the habitat for a couple of years…..while perhaps helping it…for the next couple? The Town Council needs to show some leadership on this issue. It’s not that difficult. Direct the manager to make the calls! That’s your job! Because if you really care about the fishermen and women and the plover, you will do this. A failure to do so is admission that you never really cared about either. It would also be an admission that you will allow a personal agenda for beaches to be “hidden” by something you never really cared about in the first place. Please do the right thing this time. Thank you.

  5. Suzanne Foley-Ferguson

    oops…and I forgot to thank you TT for this blog and your excellent tongue in cheek with real facts! I appreciate being able to smile about something that touches my heart so deeply and pisses me off so greatly! Bravo.



    The Plover issue is out of control, the people have spoken, and they have been ignored. The town manager should have seen this coming.
    This issue should have never gotten to this point, bad decisions have been made right from the beginning, and they continue to be made. What next – no fishing, or surfing, and do away with parking? That is all on Donovan’s agenda. To make things worse, it appears town manager is in agreement with him. Don’t forget Blaise from Higgins Beach who supports this.
    Donovan purposely put the mouth of the river at Higgins Beach out of bounds for dogs to discourage everyone, from bring their dog to Higgins.
    If we have to, we can petition the dog issue again. We have the support and our numbers are stronger, something the council does not have.

    Donovan has made every effort to control Higgins Beach and make it a resident only beach. His supporters have someone lined up to run in the next election.

    Election is coming up and we will make a change, probably as much as 2 councilors will be replaced do to bad judgment.
    It’s time to call your councilors, have you kids call, they can make a difference, let the council know you want to play on the beach with your pet.
    Don’t forget to mention the increase in taxes, which Donovan said he would not support.

  7. Caroline Ahonen

    Love reading this blog. Even if I didn’t care anything about this issue I would read this – wish you could reach more people though – like have a newspaper column for a while.

    1. tthannah Post author

      Thank you! Actually, with lots of sharing on Facebook, I have been getting some pretty good traffic. Anything folks can do to get the word out is appreciated!


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