Inlet upkeep falling behind shifting sands of channel

(April 10, 2015) Semiannual dredging may not be enough to maintain the Ocean City inlet as a viable ingress to the harbor, county officials said Tuesday.

The Army Corps of Engineers conducts the dredging operations to maintain a 10-foot deep (plus two additional feet as a buffer), 200-foot wide access channel between the harbor and the Atlantic Ocean.

According to the corps, 30,000 cubic yards of material will be hydraulically dredged and placed in surf zones of approved depositing areas on Assateague Island.

This material, comprised of medium to coarse sand, according to the corps, will replace sand captured by the jetties near the inlet and prevented from where it would have ended up without the inlet, namely Assateague Island.

The corps gave a deadline of April 14 for qualified comment. A letter from the corps delivered to the County on March 19 reads: “[W]e request that you submit comments within your agency’s area of expertise to assist in … our project.”

On the county’s behalf, Bob Mitchell, director of environmental programs, had three concerns.

The first is the project is “greatly needed.”

“Our commercial fishermen have a draft too deep when they are fully loaded to navigate the shoaled channel at present and are forced to either navigate with the tides or take their catch to alternate ports …,” Mitchell wrote in a memo prior to the meeting.

“There’s something worse down there than what’s been fixed with semiannual dredging,” he said at Tuesday’s meeting.

Speed is also a concern, as Mitchell notes the coastal bays are primary nursery areas for summer flounder entering the bays between April and November. This concern, Mitchell writes, is in keeping with the recently updated comprehensive conservation and management plan for the coastal bays.

Finally, Mitchell asks the corps to perform a long-term study to examine the repeated shoaling occurring at the inlet. Mitchell said a study referenced by the corps was dated 1998, and suggests a new effort to determine what is going on under the waters of the inlet.

“If just one of those boats goes down, it can be disastrous,” Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said.

“Boats are transferred to New Jersey,” Commissioner J. Bud Church agreed, “because of a 6- or 8-hour wait to get into the harbor. There is the potential for tens of millions of dollars to be lost. This needs immediate action.”

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