Why We Support Replacing the Machias Dike
We have the opportunity to enhance recreational and commercial opportunities in the Machias area and the ecological health of the Middle River by improving fish passage and restoring 300 acres of salt marsh.
A dike in use since 1868
East of downtown Machias, past the iconic restaurant Helen’s, is the Machias Dike, which was first built in 1868. This dike is essentially a dam with a road on it, with tide gates that allow fresh water to leave the Middle River but do not allow the tide back in. It required less maintenance than the bridge that was built in the 1820s and, by holding back the tide, enabled significant agricultural in the area that was formerly salt marsh.
River manipulation creates an agricultural hot bed in the nineteenth century
In 1868 it was reported that on this nutrient rich soil farmers grew a large and valuable hay crop estimated at three tons per acre, but with the decline in agriculture in the region its agricultural benefits have waned. Today, several landowners continue to harvest hay in this area, and at least one landowner grazes cattle.
Updates are needed, and opportunities abound
The dike was significantly rebuilt in the 1930s and the tide gates built at that time are still operating but are in serious need of repair. Maine Department of Transportation (DOT) rates the stability and safety of the dike at three out of nine, and storm surge flooding has overtopped the dike multiple times in the past five years.
In 2009, Maine DOT had a public meeting to explore replacement of the tide gates, and since that time there has been extensive study of the options, as well as conversations with the community, the town, regional stakeholders, and regulatory agencies.
On June 9, 2022, Maine DOT announced that their preference was a dike built taller (to account for sea level rise) and with a span bridge in the middle to allow unimpeded fish passage and the return of salt water and the tide to the Middle River. For Maine Coast Heritage Trust, this was a huge breakthrough. If successful, this will be the largest salt marsh restoration in the Gulf of Maine, which will have myriad benefits for numerous of species, including commercially significant fish, and mitigate the impacts of rising sea level, storm surge, and other damages to habitat and infrastructure.
Protecting and restoring salt marsh and coastal rivers are priorities for MCHT
Maine Coast Heritage Trust has good reason to support this project. We’re currently leading a state-wide initiative to protect and restore salt marshes, which are becoming increasingly valuable in a changing climate. Salt marshes increase climate change resiliency by absorbing storm waters and sequestering carbon at up to ten times the rate of regional forests. They’re also important nurseries for fish such as clams, lobsters, and groundfish, and provide food and shelter for numerous other types of wildlife.
This new design would also significantly improve fish passage into the Middle River for Atlantic salmon, alewives, sea-run brook trout, smelt, and American eels, enhancing recreational and commercial opportunities and the ecosystem. Restoring rivers and fish passage is another priority for us, and the focus of our Rivers Initiative.
New plan prioritizes commercial and recreational opportunities and compensation for community members who will be negatively impacted by changes
The new design doesn’t just ensure the safety of the Route One crossing in Machias, it also offers additional recreational and commercial opportunities for community members.
The current dike is a hub of commercial and social activity, home to the farmers market, antique and flea markets, and food vendors. The new design would make the space even more conducive for these activities, and could include a new walking trail and observation decks where people could gather, stop to eat lunch and enjoy the view, or toss in a fishing line. Restoration of fish passage and marsh would create more commercial and recreational fishing opportunities as well as hunting opportunities.
Maine DOT is bound by state and federal law to restore fish passage, but this will negatively impact landowners upstream, which is a concern for MCHT and many others in the Machias community. DOT is committed to compensating those landowners for the loss of use of the land—something we feel is critical. Additionally, the land trust community is ready to purchase sections of the marsh for conservation.
MCHT lends support to the project
For this specific project, MCHT has helped communicate the value of updating the structure by commissioning renderings of the dike to share with community members. These visuals make it easier to understand how the new design can meet ecological goals and account for climate change while still supporting the economic, cultural, and recreational values of the community.
On Tuesday, June 28, 2022, the town hosted a public meeting at the Machias Memorial High School to discuss renovation plans for the Machias Dike. MCHT project manager Jacob van de Sande attended the meeting and heard community members express their concerns about the impacts to landowners within the marsh where the tide would be returned. MCHT is committed to working with the community to find ways to lessen the impacts to landowners and achieve the goals of fish passage and marsh restoration and the economic benefits of a healthier ecosystem.
Voice your support!
If you live in Machias or surrounding area, or have a special connection to this region of the coast, we encourage you to join us in voicing your support for this historic project. Email or call Martin Rooney, Project Manager at Maine DOT, at or 207-624-3317. There is no deadline for written comment, but the sooner you make your voice heard the better. If you have questions for MCHT, you’re welcome to be in touch with Jacob van de Sande at .
Learn more about MCHT’s work to support:
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