Ocean City Today

DNR survey shows inlet nearly closed by more shoaling

Dredge due Sunday to bring some much needed relief
By Brian Gilliland | Feb 01, 2018
DNR survey

(Feb. 2, 2018) A survey performed by the Department of Natural Resources for buoy placement at the inlet and provided to Ocean City Today shows an inlet that is nearly impassible to boats that draw any more than a few feet of water, hindering the state’s commercial fishing industry from meeting deadlines and maintaining working boats.

Department of Natural Resources Public Information Officer Gregg Bortz said the survey is taken every few months, and the one provided to the newspaper is from Jan. 16, 2018.

It’s a bathymetric survey, Bortz said, which is essentially the underwater equivalent of topography. The department plans to repeat the process every few months, although there’s no set dates or timeline.

“This survey image was taken solely as a measure of depths for the U.S. Coast Guard for local boat guidance in setting navigational markers,” he said.

The department doesn’t interpret the results, merely measures the bottom. However, Bortz explained the darkest blue color is generally between 30-47 feet deep, light green is around 10 feet deep and dark red is the shallowest at less than two feet deep.

The Army Corps of Engineers, who oversee waterways like the inlet, has approved the Ocean City inlet to be 10 feet deep. Thus, the channel should be light green in color.

This past week, the Army Corps had its own survey vessel out, measuring the extent of the shoaling, and determining the scope for new dredging operations, scheduled to begin next week.

Chris Gardner, spokesman for the Army Corps, said the dredge Murden should arrive this Sunday and stay for a full week of operations on the inlet, weather permitting. Usually, the Army Corps performs work on the Assateague Bypass this time of year, but those plans were put on hold after the commercial fishing vessel the Instigator ran aground a few weeks ago.

“We’ll continue to address shoaling as we can and funds are available, using navigation funding — like this upcoming visit from the Murden — as well as leveraging our Assateague Bypass work as much as possible,” Gardner said. “We do our best to be responsive to the issues facing the users of the inlet, within our budgetary restraints, and that’s why we’ve secured what should be approximately seven days of navigation-specific dredging beginning next week which should help address some of the issues that have been facing mariners since the powerful storms that hit earlier this month.”

Once the survey is complete, Gardner said the corps would have a better understanding of how much material needed to be removed from the state’s only ocean harbor to ensure boats can navigate it without risking damage.

For the past five years, boats of decreasing size have become stuck, run aground or have bottomed out while trying to return to the harbor via the inlet. Commercial fishermen and local leaders have met several times on the subject, while the solution, so far, is to keep dredging matter out of the channel.

Commercial fishermen have taken to timing their runs with the tides to better ensure there is enough water in the inlet for the boats to clear the trouble spots, generally agreed to be between buoys 10-12.

“The area is very dynamic, and don’t forget, the inlet was originally a breach formed by a storm in the 1930s and nature is always trying to close it. Between the natural sediment budget, storms, etc. shoaling is a natural part of the inlet’s existence,” Gardner said.

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