(June 19, 2015) Commercial and recreational fishermen who have had trouble entering and exiting the Ocean City Inlet because of incessant shoaling can breathe a little easier as the Army Corps of Engineers has made $250,000 available to pay for intermittent dredging.
“The money is being allocated now, but that’s not to say work will begin immediately,” Sarah Gross, public affairs specialist with the Army Corps of Engineers said Tuesday.
Action began on the issue after commercial fisherman Joe Letts said he was forced to move his fleet into New Jersey to avoid potential damage and delays because of shoaling at the inlet.
Some of the larger commercial boats, and most recently the vessel contracted to map the ocean floor beneath leased property for an offshore wind farm, are subject to wait for high tide to traverse the inlet. The survey boat was delayed for 12 hours.
“The requested $250,000 allows for special usage from Wilmington,” Gross said, “It’s still [Superstorm] Sandy recovery money.”
Pursuing advanced maintenance funds to finance more frequent dredging of the inlet was the first of three steps identified at an April meeting organized by Delegate Mary Beth Carozza and attended by federal, state and local elected officials, commercial fishermen and government employees.
“Operations will be performed whenever they can get out and do it. How many trips the money will fund is a function of how much material and the scope of the removal effort,” Gross said, “This is a Band-Aid until we can do something more substantial.”
The depth of the inlet is managed by the Army Corps of Engineers and is approved for a depth of 10 feet, plus and additional two feet of overdraft. Regular dredging is necessary to maintain that depth as the inlet continues to fill with sand and sediment.
In April, Corps Project Manager Bob Blama said he would attempt to secure funds to dredge the inlet to a total depth of 14 feet.
Blama said the ideal situation would be to take the entire inlet down to a depth of 14 feet, but the way the funding works and the availability of the dredge won’t allow for that at this time.
“I can go down to 14, but the way this is working, I’m only getting the dredge sporadically,” Blama said, “We’re working in a timeframe. If I have a hotspot that’s only seven or eight feet, we’re going to take it down as far as we can in the allotted time.”
The county as well as other interested parties sent letters of intent to the Army Corps of Engineers late last month asking them to act on a 1998 study recommending dredging to a permanent depth between 14 and 16 feet. The local share of funding for such a project is expected to be around 10 percent of the total cost.
A new study, also requested in the letter of intent, to pinpoint the source of the shoaling sediment, would carry a cost-sharing aspect of about 35 percent local funding. Whether that funding can be provided as an in-kind donation, by Worcester County providing a site to dispose of the dredged material, for example, will be answered when the county signs a project contract for a more permanent solution to the sediment problem.