This file photo shows the dam along the Union River in Ellsworth. Credit: Courtesy of Tony Stevenson

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has allocated $4.7 million to improve navigation into Ellsworth’s harbor after years of shifting bottom have reduced some passages to about a foot of clearance at low tide.

Ellsworth City Manager Glenn Moshier confirmed that the corps put the Union River dredging project in its latest work plan and has already done some prep work for it.

Dredging the river has been a priority for the city in recent years as the popularity of boating in the area has increased. The city has added diesel fuel sales at the harbor, making it more attractive to both recreational boaters and commercial fishermen. But the current limitations in the harbor, which was last dredged about 20 years ago, could push some frustrated seamen to other, more easily accessible coves.

“It’s huge and it couldn’t come soon enough,” said Adam Wilson, the city’s harbormaster.

Though money has been set aside, Moshier anticipated it would be a while before any digging begins.

“My understanding is we are still talking two years out before the completion of the project,” he said.

An Army Corps spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment on Tuesday.

One of the challenges with the project has been the added cost of moving the material in the river, some of which is contaminated with heavy metals and other materials from the city’s days of lumbering and shipbuilding.

The Union River project is one of several in Hancock County that has the attention of the federal officials. The corps is scheduled to meet with Blue Hill officials and residents on Thursday to talk about the possibility of dredging that harbor, which becomes a mudflat at low tide.

Surry, a small coastal town that sits between Blue Hill and Ellsworth, is also in the preliminary stages of a financial analysis to see if it’s worth the corps’ time to dredge a channel and turning basin at the town dock on Patten Bay.

“If we can make a case and find the funds without raising our town property taxes we may be able to do such a project in the next few years,” Surry Select Board member Eric Treworgy said last month.

Moshier said Ellsworth may have to foot some of the cost for its dredging, though there wasn’t a current price tag attached. With Ellsworth getting the green light, he expected some of the neighboring projects might be able to “piggyback” on the corps already being in the area and thereby save some money.