Immediate Inlet Dredging Planned As Long-Term Fix Evaluated

Immediate Inlet Dredging Planned As Long-Term Fix Evaluated
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OCEAN CITY — About one month after state and local officials sent a letter to the federal Army Corps of Engineers requesting immediate assistance with the dredging and deepening of the Ocean City Inlet, it appears short-term relief is on its way while a longer-term remedy is considered.

The continued shoaling of the Inlet has negatively affected commercial and recreational fishing and boating activities out of Maryland’s only Atlantic port for many years. The Inlet continually fills in through natural and man-made processes and is often unpassable, particularly during low tide.

While the Inlet and other channels in and around the mouth of the commercial harbor in West Ocean City naturally fill in and are in need of continual maintenance dredging, the problem has become more acute in recent years to the point it is now curtailing commercial and recreational activity out of Ocean City. In April, over 40 representatives from the federal, state and local governments along with commercial and recreational fisherman and members of the business and environmental community met to discuss the problem of the Inlet depth, which is often as low as 10 feet.

Based on that discussion, the town of Ocean City, Worcester County and the state’s Department of Natural Resources agreed to send a Letter of Intent to the Army Corps of Engineers requesting assistance with the dredging of the Inlet and harbor to a deeper standard of 14-16 feet.

“We respectfully request that you review and confirm the dramatic increase in shoaling in the Ocean City harbor and Inlet area as soon as possible in order that immediate dredging relief can be provided to keep these commercial waterways open and safe, and to prevent the further loss to the local commercial and recreational boating industry,” the letter read.

The letter was sent in late May and already there appears to be a measured response from the Army Corps of Engineers. Delegate Mary Beth Carozza (R-38C) said this week she has had some assurances from the Corps that some immediate dredging would occur.

“Since we’ve sent the letter, I have been in contact with the Army Corps of Engineers regarding the next steps,” she said. “It is my understanding from talking with officials from the Army Corps of Engineers that immediate dredging relief will start soon in the Inlet, and we’re waiting to hear on the exact timing.”

Carozza said the dredging aimed at providing immediate relief while a long-term solution is considered.

“This is the first step that we discussed in our earlier meeting and the Army Corps of Engineers will use operations and maintenance funding for immediate dredging,” she said. “At the same time, we as the non-federal partners will continue to work with the Army Corps on the long-term plan, which include the broader bay areas.”

Back in 1998, the Army Corps of Engineers completed its Ocean City, Maryland and Vicinity Water Resources Study, which correctly predicted many of the shoaling problems taking place now, but apparently the problems have developed more rapidly than predicted. At that time, the study recommended the Inlet and harbor depth be increased to 14 feet and 16 feet, respectively. However, those plans were scrapped due to funding issues.

The resulting negative economic impact to the city, county and state is millions of dollars in lost revenue, according to local officials. Some of the commercial vessels working out of the West Ocean City harbor have left the area and others are threatening to do so because of constant problems upon returning to the dock to unload their catches and damages to their fleets from bottoming out.