The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will provide $3 million to dredge the channel in Yarmouth Harbor of built-up sediment that restricts boat traffic and threatens local businesses, local and federal officials said Wednesday.

The work, nearly a decade overdue, will make the harbor more accessible to commercial fishermen and pleasure boaters who depend on the channel that extends from Casco Bay to the public boat ramp and three nearby marinas.

“We are absolutely thrilled,” said Deborah Delp, who owns Yankee Marina in Yarmouth Harbor. “We had a hard time believing it, that’s how long we’ve been working on it.”

Army Corps staff said that if permitting and bidding go smoothly, work could begin as soon as October. A private contractor would be hired to begin removing 60,000 cubic yards of sand and silt from the channel, leaving it 8 feet wide and 8 feet deep at low tide. The work will take roughly six months and likely be completed during the fall or winter. The dredged material will be dumped within a predesignated disposal area several miles off shore.

Steve Woods, chair of the Yarmouth Town Council, said the town received a letter Wednesday congratulating the community on being included in the work plan for fiscal 2015, which begins Oct. 1.

Without dredging, the harbors’ three private marinas, which together contribute more than $25 million annually to the local economy, would see business whittled away as boat owners choose ports of call with deeper harbors and more consistent access.

Delp’s boatyard has served pleasure cruisers and commercial fishermen for 50 years. But if the channel isn’t dredged, dwindling access could put her out of business within 10 years, she said.

She and Steve Arnold, owner of Yarmouth Boat Yard, said they both plan to have their boat slips dredged privately to coincide with the federal work, a money-saving practice for the marinas.

Silt and mud flowing down the Royal River since the last federal dredging was done in 1997 have built up and the harbor has become too shallow at low tide for commercial fishing vessels and other large boats to reach the three marinas. The businesses depend on consistent access to attract customers who rent berths or have maintenance work performed at the yards.

The Army Corps is supposed to dredge every 10 years, but because of the economic downturn and reduced federal budgets, the Yarmouth dredging has been pushed aside in favor of more pressing projects at more strategically important ports, officials said.

“We’ve been pushing for this project for years and I’m glad that the money is finally there,” said Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree in a statement Wednesday morning. “The Corps has a big workload for this year, in part because of Hurricane Sandy, but I’m hopeful they will fit this project in sometime this year now that the money is there.”

Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins released a joint statement commending the Army Corps for including the project, which will give an economic boost to the area.

“Our nation’s ports and harbors, especially those in Maine, play an integral role in supporting local economies, commerce, and marine trade jobs,” King and Collins said in the release. “There is an ongoing need to see that they are properly maintained and managed.”

Staff Writer Matt Byrne can be reached at 791-6303, or at:

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