OCEAN CITY — The fall dredging season is well underway in and around Ocean City with several projects going on simultaneously.
The federal Army Corps of Engineers in September began a major dredging project of the navigation channels in the Isle of Wight and Sinepuxent bays with hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of dredged materials being spread at various important ecological sites in and around the resort area. Taking place at the same time is the dredging of various canals in Ocean City, which need to be dredged to facilitate marine navigation.
New on the landscape this week was the Army Corps’ dredge vessel “Murden” which was seen working in and around the Inlet and at the mouth of the commercial harbor in recent days. Twice a year, typically in the spring and fall, the “Murden” performs sand management dredging during which the Corps takes material from the Inlet ebb and flood shoals and transports it to the surf zone on Assateague.
The “Murden” is what is called a hopper dredge and its bottom is designed to essentially scoop sand from silted in areas around the Inlet. The vessel’s bottom then closes, keeping the dredged sand in place. The “Murden” then moves over to the surf zone just off the coast of Assateague and reopens its bottom, allowing the dredged material to dump out. Wave action and natural processes then disburse the dredged sand onto the beaches on Assateague as part of a natural replenishment project.
“The purpose of the project is to stabilize the Assateague shoreline by taking sand that would have been naturally transported to the island if the Inlet was not there, while at the same time keeping the Inlet open for navigation,” said Ocean City Engineer Terry McGean this week.
The Army Corps of Engineers’ major dredging of the federal navigation channels in the Isle of Wight and Sinepuxent bays is also proceeding on a parallel course. The channels silt in over time through natural and man-made processes and need to be routinely dredged to a depth and width to support the area’s commercial and recreational fishing and boating industries.
The required dredging serves the dual purpose of maintaining the channels to appropriate depth and width while driving material to sand-starved migratory islands and beaches in and around the resort that serve an important ecological purpose and provide habitat for the many species of migratory birds that pass through the area.
Meanwhile, the town of Ocean City is moving forward with the first phase of its five-year plan to dredge the various canals in the resort. The bayside canals silt in as well and many have become unnavigable. Town officials recognized the need to dredge the canals to an appropriate depth and developed a long-term plan to tackle them systematically based on a pre-determined priority system.
The canals are being dredged in relatively close proximity to each other in the interest of efficiency and cost-saving. The dredged material in some cases is being deposited on the beaches nearby, depending on the quality of the material, and in other cases is being pumped into a lagoon at Northside Park.
The first phase included the canals in the areas of Hitchens and Trimper avenues and began earlier this fall. McGean said this week the project is moving forward quickly and the contractors could soon be moving on to the next phase.
“Canal dredging is going very well,” he said. “They are about 75 percent complete with the first canal and will then be moving to 52nd Street, which has a lot of open water so they want to get that one done before the weather turns. Then they will move to 48th Street and finally address the smaller storm drain outfalls.”
McGean said the plan to pump some of the dredged material into the lagoon at Northside Park is exceeding expectations.
“The disposal process at Northside Park is going much better than I ever expected,” he said. “By placing a small hydraulic dredge right in the pond, they have been able to offload material with minimal impact to the park.”