ELLSWORTH, Maine — After spending $80,000 last winter to replace ice-damaged dock pilings, the city hopes the latest addition to its marina will prevent further expensive ice damage.
The 17 commercial-grade de-icers will churn enough water to keep ice from forming within 50 feet of the docks, even in weather as cold as minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit, Ellsworth Public Works Director Lisa Sekulich said.
The electric-powered motors, which cost $15,000 in total, were attached to pilings earlier this month. They became a priority because the city has spent $100,000 repairing damage from floating ice, a phenomenon called ice-jacking, since 2016, Harbormaster Adam Wilson said.
“To me, the selling point was that every few years we have major damage down there that we have to repair because of ice,” City Manager David Cole said. “We have to stop this damage, first and foremost. The rest is gravy.”
Last winter was rough on Maine’s coast. Besides the damage done in Ellsworth, a wind storm pummelled Belfast’s harbor and high seas swept an historic herring brining shed in Lubec to Campobello Island across the Canadian border. Flooding and icing also damaged a visitor center at Acadia National Park.
Ellsworth replaced 12 pilings after last winter, two in 2017 and a single piling in 2016, Wilson said.
In addition to helping to prevent ice damage, the city’s new de-icers will also allow the newly ice-free marina to operate year-round, Sekulich said.
The marina, which operated from May to October, can now berth 14 vessels over the winter at its location off Water Street and 3 miles up the Union River, and it can handle boat traffic from ocean oyster and mussel farms, Wilson said.
“We have a couple of fishermen looking for commercial storage or to actually be out there longer,” Sekulich said. “With the possibilities of our ice eaters and our new fuel tank installation next year, it will open a giant window for additional commercial fisheries and commercial activity in the harbor.”
Ellsworth also plans to extend the marina’s walking path to Water Street and eventually tie it into downtown.
And, Sekulich said, year-round commercial marina traffic could lead the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to step up its river dredging in the area, which the corps prioritizes according to greatest need.
Increased traffic would also put the marina one step closer to being self-sustaining, Wilson said, as the city collects fees from boats that use the marina docks.
Wilson said he doesn’t yet know how many commercial fishermen would use the docks over the winter or what they will be charged.
The Harbor Commission will likely discuss fees at its meeting at City Hall on Dec. 12 at 6 p.m., he said.