Ocean City Today

Dredging options explored at Ocean City inlet meeting

Government officials, staff gather to determine how to fund additional harbor work
By Brian Gilliland | Nov 16, 2017

(Nov. 17, 2017) While generally regarded as a productive exercise, a meeting last Thursday between officials of local, state and federal governments on the need to curb shoaling in the Ocean City inlet focused on what could be done rather than what should be done.

“Primarily, it was an overview of what dredging we expect to be able to carry out, based on our current funding over the next year or so,” Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Chris Gardner said. “That includes Assateague Bypass work coming up next month, and likely some navigation-specific dredging in early 2018 (funded through maintenance dredging, rather than the Assateague Bypass) and then the next round of Assateague Bypass dredging in late spring 2018,”

The Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for conducting the dredging, but must base the work it can do on the money it has. Funding, Gardner said in a previous interview, has been halved since 2013 — as has the length of time the dredges have been able to operate in Ocean City.

Complaints about shoaling in the inlet have increased steadily since late 2014, with at least one commercial fisherman abandoning the Maryland port for one in New Jersey.

Plans to combat further losses have come and gone, with a planned hydrodynamic study of the entire inlet and a proposal to move the channel to deeper waters either changed, abandoned or left incomplete with only regular dredging keeping it open.

“This is the first time in the last 10 years the pace is moving as I would like it,” County Commissioner Bud Church said. Church has been critical of the amount of progress he’s seen in the past.

“A large part of the discussion was explaining to state and local officials the potential for, should they be interested, funding additional days of dredging using local funds and how that process might work,” Gardner said.

“This would be using funds from either state, county and/or local sources to pay for the costs of having either USACE (corps) dredges, so either dredge Murden or dredge Currituck, conduct additional dredging in Ocean City Inlet beyond what the Corps of Engineers has funding available for.”

The corps’ time and effort is based on a hierarchy of needs and how critical a port like the Ocean City inlet is to residents.

“The inlet is only considered commercial, but we haven’t assessed what we’ve lost in charter boats, like the White Marlin Open, food, lodging, fuel,” Church said. “We need everyone working together to grease the rails to go a little quicker.”

That might change with the inclusion of attorney Mark Cropper, who said he’d been retained to represent the interests of charter boat captains. However, Cropper wasn’t as optimistic as Church.

“It’s clear everyone shares the urgency of need to do something in the short term to keep the inlet open and the long-term consideration as to how to keep it open,” he said. “The problem is, and has been, the bureaucratic process within which we need to work to figure this out.”

Worcester County, through its Economic Development office, is also developing a request for proposals to explore an economic impact study along those lines. The request should be released to vendors this autumn, according to a county press release.

Gardner said there is no additional funding for any other dredging operations other than scheduled maintenance until the end of fiscal 2018 on the federal calendar (Sept. 30, 2018).

Should local governments come to an agreement, they could fund dredge visits themselves and at a lower cost than utilizing private enterprise to solve the problem, Gardner said.

“For various reasons, using one of these dredges, based on their schedule and when they’re in the area doing other work, would potentially be significantly less costly than contracting the work out privately,” he said. “Having other dredges do the work would incur additional dredge mobilization costs and require additional plans and oversight that is not needed with the Murden or Currituck because they dredge the inlet and dispose of material from the inlet on a regular basis.”

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