2017-09-07 / News

University begins work on Ram Island

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer


The University of New England will use Ram Island for its ongoing marine science research and act as steward of the property. Biddeford resident Arthur Girard gifted the island to the school in 2014. Construction of a new boat ramp is expected to begin sometime next year. (Courtesy image) The University of New England will use Ram Island for its ongoing marine science research and act as steward of the property. Biddeford resident Arthur Girard gifted the island to the school in 2014. Construction of a new boat ramp is expected to begin sometime next year. (Courtesy image) SACO – The University of New England plans to build a boat ramp on Ram Island within the next year to further research initiatives in the Saco Bay area.

Biddeford Resident Arthur Girard donated Ram Island to the university in December 2014. His family purchased the island in 1999 for $140,000. The island property is assessed by the city at $176,300. Girard maintained the property as a summer residence until transferring ownership to University of New England. The school’s marine science center is also named after Girard.

Construction of the ramp is scheduled to begin in 2018, according to the university. Saco City Planner Bob Hamblen said the school will need approval from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as well as from the city.


Ram Island’s existing building and lawn were maintained by the Girard family as a summer residence. In the past, students accessed the island by rowing a small skiff from a vessel moored offshore and the practice was considered precarious. Once the new ramp is completed university researchers will be able to dock a 32-foot catamaran, weather permitting. (Courtesy photo) Ram Island’s existing building and lawn were maintained by the Girard family as a summer residence. In the past, students accessed the island by rowing a small skiff from a vessel moored offshore and the practice was considered precarious. Once the new ramp is completed university researchers will be able to dock a 32-foot catamaran, weather permitting. (Courtesy photo) “I fully expect them to get approval Tuesday, Sept. 5 from the planning board,” Hamblen said.

Any structure being built near the water requires approval from the city, state and federal government, Hamblen said.

The proposed ramp will be built using either steel or timber frames fastened to the island’s ledge at 30 foot intervals. The ramp will extend beyond low water levels so a boat can access the island at any state of tide. Prefabricated sections of the ramp will be delivered to the island via barge and set in place by a mounted crane. The project is estimated to take between four and six weeks. Construction cannot take place between April 1 and July 31 as that time is a critical nesting period for migrating seabirds according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. The ramp will be built on the shore-facing side of the island. The ramp is expected to be 180 feet in length and 14 feet wide.

The university will use the island in conjunction with Project TURBO, The Undergraduate Saco River Biodiversity Observatory, which will be able to study freshwater and open ocean ecosystems. For this work UNE received a five-year $640,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. Research will focus on coastal zone investigations of climate changes, marine geology, invasive species, marine mammal ecology and interactions with fisheries and marine aquaculture.

Crystal Canney, director of communications and global outreach for the university, wrote in an email the island will enhance academic programs by providing increased access to students and staff.

“The real value is being able to work in the ecosystem that surrounds the island with all the various species that exist,” she wrote.

Contact Staff Writer Grant McPherson at news@inthecourier.com

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