Two people observe a dock in Madawaska
District Representative nominee Ben Paradis and Chief Planner Diano Circo with Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife observe the strong currents causing erosion at the boat landing in Madawaska on May 23. Credit: Emily Jerkins / St. John Valley Times

A near-fatal boat and trailer flip two years ago illustrated the seriousness of the erosion problem around Madawaska’s boat landing, and the need to do annual maintenance or to find a more permanent solution.

That boat ramp was one of two that a Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife representative and a state senator examined on Monday to discuss ways to make them safer and more convenient for the hundreds of fishermen who use them. The other was in Grand Isle.

With derbies and tournaments where fishermen from Canada and across the United States hit northern Maine lakes and rivers for everything from muskie to bass, boat landings along the St. John River see plenty of traffic during open water fishing season. With such steady use comes the need for more frequent upgrades and maintenance. State officials toured the Madawaska and Grand Isle boat landings to help come up with ways to improve those two areas.

Two years ago, John Daigle of Madawaska was putting his boat into the water when the back wheels of his trailer went off the end of the ramp. Heavy current had washed away sediment and left a large hole, causing the boat and trailer to flip and get stuck in the rush of the water.

Chief Planner Diano Circo of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and Maine Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson met members of Grand Isle Planning Board at that town’s boat landing Monday to discuss installing a floating dock.

Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife consulted with town officials and district representatives about the boat landing in Madawaska on My 23. From left: Diano Circo, Danny Martin, Gary Picard, Ken Theriault, Troy Jackson, John Daigle. Credit: Emily Jerkins / St. John Valley Times

In anticipation of several upcoming events such as the Bass Tournament on June 5, a kayak and canoe race on Father’s Day weekend and the Muskie Derby based out of Fort Kent in August, Grand Isle officials had hoped to add a floating dock to their boat landing.

The boat landing has cost approximately $700,000 to build since 2014. The floating dock would allow boaters and fishermen to board their watercraft without getting in the water, plus provide a place to tie down a boat temporarily.

Grand Isle Planning Board Chairperson George Dionne said that he had hoped the dock would be in the water this summer. He expected plenty of fishermen to access the lake through Grand Isle as that portion of the river is fed by Green River on the Canadian side and has the ideal depth for fish such as muskie and bass.

A dock would also provide handicap-friendly access to the boats at the landing, Dionne said.

“I don’t boat and I don’t fish, but I care for what happens,” Dionne said.

Since the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife owns the boat landing, Circo said that in order for the dock to be installed, it would have to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which would mean a concrete abutment with a path that connects the dock to the paved parking lot and ramp.

The way the river turns at an angle just before the boat landing may mean too much damage to any structure built in that location when the spring ice gets pushed into the cutbank, Circo said. Ice has pushed onto the bank at the landing in other years. One year, ice pushed back the guard rail along the pavement on the hill that goes to the landing.

Though the idea for the dock was not approved immediately, some plans for the landing in Grand Isle will likely be made within the next three to four years, Dionne said. Though the parking lot, which sits above the landing on the highest point of the bank, was updated last year, the town wants a paved loop that goes all the way around from one end of the parking lot, down to the landing and back up to the other end of the lot.

Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife consulted with town officials and district representatives about the boat landing in Grand Isle on May 23. Credit: Emily Jerkins / St. John Valley Times

After assessing the landing in Grand Isle, Circo and Jackson went to Madawaska’s boat landing behind the industrial park where they met up with Town Manager Gary Picard and several current and former state representatives to brainstorm how to solve that landing’s yearly erosion problem.

Though Madawaska owns the landing and not DIF&W, Circo was asked to consult on the issue after Daigle’s near fatal incident two years prior.

Madawaska has been struggling with its boat landing for several years, refilling the holes only for them to be washed out again the following year, Picard said. Circo said it is a common problem with river boat landings and that one option would be to just fill the holes each year.

Other options were discussed among the group including shortening the ramp and fixing the ramp bed or posting signs for boaters to check the landing before unloading their boats.

“Now we have a plan and we can actually address it,” Picard said. “Likely there’s going to be another hole there and we’ll just fill it in. But we do plan to probably pick up 20 to 30 feet of those planks, maybe next year, lift them out and reset the bed that’s underneath there, reinstall the planks and do it over again.

“If not next year, the year after. We’re going to keep an eye on it, but boaters should always take a look before they actually back in just to be sure,” Picard said.