The Working Waterfront

Listening led to harbor dredging funds

Frenchboro’s connection to mainland was shoaling

By Alex Zipparo
Posted 2024-05-07
Last Modified 2024-05-07

Last month, Sen. Susan Collins secured $500,000 in federal funding to dredge Frenchboro’s Lunt Harbor. The small island eight miles off Mount Desert Island relies on marine transportation and fishing for survival, so a safely navigable harbor is critical for the island’s everyday function.

The harbor, the main point for commercial fishing activity, is also the only access point for all mainland needs, including mail, groceries, medical services, and other supplies. The harbor had not been dredged in more than 50 years and because of that gap in maintenance, shoaling has severely limited harbor navigation, with access only possible during certain phases of the tidal cycle.

This new funding provides the financial capability to get the job done, enhancing access to the central hub for Frenchboro’s economic activity and basic community needs.

The harbor had not been dredged in more than 50 years…

Serving islands takes a good listening ear and a keen eye for opportunity, and it also helps to be in the right place at the right time. The Frenchboro dredging project is a good example of that.

I took my first work trip out to Frenchboro nearly two years ago to meet with municipal officials and other community leaders about their needs, goals, and vision for the island. After spending the day touring the island with community members, I got back on the boat to return to the mainland, where I met Frenchboro resident Eric Best.

As we made our way back to Bass Harbor, Eric asked me about my role at Island Institute. When I told him about how I engage with municipalities, he said “Maybe you’re the exact person I need to talk to! I am a new select board member and I want to get our harbor dredged.” I said I would see what I could do to help.

Once I was back in the office, my colleague Nick Battista, Island Institute’s chief policy officer, and I reached out to the Army Corps of Engineers to get the ball rolling. From there, I worked with Best and the Army Corps of Engineers to analyze findings from a previously conducted harbor study for the island to confirm the need for dredging, which started the process to finally dredge Lunt Harbor.

While it was a relief to finally have all the pieces in motion, the timeline for project completion was years away. In my work supporting island needs, I regularly interface with Maine’s congressional delegation staff to help them understand the issues that impact our islands most so they can intervene when appropriate.

In this case, Sen. Collins was able to help expedite the dredging project timeline though Congressional Directed Spending funds she secured.

The project will be completed by the Army Corps of Engineers in the next couple of years which has brought a sense of relief to the community.

The story of how Frenchboro got to this point illustrates how Island Institute serves communities along Maine’s coast. A lot of what my colleagues and I do is leverage internal and external resources to help islands and coastal communities meet their needs.
In this case, residents of Frenchboro communicated the need for dredging to Island Institute staff and entrusted us to work with our federal partners to navigate a path to meet their goals. In a letter to Sen. Collins about the funding request, Frenchboro residents and members of the fishing community, Rachel Bishop and David Lunt said:
“Island Institute has worked with the Frenchboro community for decades and have added their support for this project and the efforts to help us address the decreasing navigability of our harbor. They recognize the critical role that our harbor plays in the economic and community resilience of our island. The need for safe, reliable access to the inner harbor is critical for all aspects of island life and work.”
We couldn’t be more thrilled about this success story of how a collaboration between a community development organization and dedicated public servants can make a big impact on a small and mighty Maine fishing community.

Alex Zipparo is a community development officer with Island Institute, publisher of The Working Waterfront. They may be contacted at