BAR HARBOR — The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers is preparing to repair the hundred-year-old breakwater that protects the docks and anchorages of Bar Harbor. It’s not yet clear how extensive the work will be, when it will be done and whether the town will need to contribute to the cost.
According to Captain Skip Strong, a harbor pilot and member of Bar Harbor’s cruise ship committee, the Corps of Engineers is still in the assessment phase of the project. Engineers conducted a survey of the breakwater in the fall, he said.
“They are digesting that information and deciding whether it is a maintenance or improvement project,” said Strong, who has been updating the cruise ship committee on the status of the project. “We’ve heard no news yet.”
Nor has he heard an estimate of when the decision will be made. “I will probably be pestering them after the first of the year,” he said.
The difference between maintaining the existing structure or a larger improvement has financial implications, Strong explained. “Maintenance would fall strictly on the Corps of Engineers for funding,” he said. The cost of an improvement project, on the other hand, would be shared between local and federal government sources.
Whether funded completely or partially by the federal government, the project is still likely years away from getting its funding approved, according to Strong.
Funding for projects like this get passed by Congress through Water Resources Development Acts, he said, which include funding for ports, inland waterways, dams and other water infrastructure. According to a 2018 press release, these bills are usually approved every two years.
“This could be two, three, five, seven years down the road for funding,” Strong said.
The breakwater was constructed between the years of 1888 and 1917 to protect the harbor, according to Corps of Engineers documents available through Integrated Publishing, an online source of military reports.
The 2,510-foot long structure, extending off the southwestern shore of Bald Porcupine Island toward the Bar Harbor coastline, includes 382,000 tons of stone.
Construction was halted in 1917 and never finished. The documents do not say why the project was left incomplete, but 1917 was the beginning of U.S. involvement in World War I, a time when many civilian-focused resources were allocated elsewhere.
The breakwater was left 88 percent complete. It stretches the full length that had been planned, but is not a uniform height all the way across.
Corps documents state that at the time of its near-completion, the breakwater stood 10.4 feet above the mean low water mark. According to NOAA, tide gauge records in the Gulf of Maine show that the sea level has risen 8 inches since that time.