Dredging the Kennebec: Water quality, fish mortality?

Posted Wednesday, August 10, 2011 in Investigation

Dredging the Kennebec: Water quality, fish mortality?

An aerial view of the dredge in the Kennebec River, taken Aug. 5.

by Gina Hamilton

BATH — The Army Corps of Engineers' dredging operation is under way in the Kennebec River; how much damage it is causing is as yet unclear.

Water turbidity has definitely increased at the dredging site and at one of the dump sites, according to Steve Hinchman, attorney for the plaintiffs in the matter. "We're visually seeing an increase in fine particulate deposition," he said. "But it's too early to tell how serious the damage is going to be."

That's because, on account of the weather, the dredging has so far been sporadic. 

Of greater concern is the endangered sturgeon species that may be scooped up with the dredge.

"When you take a look at the water coming through the dredge, which is very dark and mixed with sediments, it would be impossible for any watcher to see a piece of an endangered fish ... or even a whole sturgeon ... coming through the dredge," Hinchman said. "In any case, there's too much water and sediment for anyone to be able to adequately tell whether sturgeon are being killed. It would be like trying to drink through a fire hose."

A water-testing company has been spotted checking water samples in the area. The company was not hired by the plaintiffs, Hinchman said, and it was also not the Army Corps of Engineers doing the testing. "That leaves BIW," he said.

A telephone call to BIW was not returned by presstime.

As yet unknown are the effects of the dredging on the clam flats in Phippsburg. If the flats have to close, the economic impact could be as much as $500,000 to the community.

Because the weather has been somewhat uncooperative, no one can predict when the dredging operation will end. 

The dredging was necessary to bring the USS Spruance down the river in time for the ship to rendezvous with other naval vessels for a celebration at Key West in September. 

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