OCEAN CITY — The Army Corps of Engineers dredge boat Murden arrived in Ocean City on Tuesday for the semiannual dredging of the ebb shoals near the Inlet and, perhaps more importantly, finish the quick-fix emergency project completed by its sister ship Currituck last month.
From March 6-12, the Army Corps’ hopper dredge Currituck worked practically around the clock to dredge the Inlet after the always-challenging shoaling problem was exacerbated by Winter Storm Jonas in late January. With the Inlet shoaling in even further after the storm, the channel again became impassable at times even on the highest tides.
The Inlet continually fills in through natural and man-made processes and is often impassable, particularly during low tide. While the Inlet and other channels in and around the mouth of the commercial harbor 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.
It’s been a problem for years and has put at risk the commercial and recreational fishing industries in the resort area. While the Currituck worked to dredge the Inlet to its federally-authorized depth of 10 feet, a plan is in place for a longer-term solution that could result in the dredging of the Inlet and harbor channels to a new standard of 14-16 feet.
In the meantime, the Currituck last month was successful in the dredging the Inlet to the authorized 10 feet with roughly 13,500 cubic yards of material removed and deposited on the north end of Assateague Island, which is more than what was estimated for the emergency repair. Prior to dredging, the Army Corps’ estimated target for the Currituck project was 10,000 feet.
Nonetheless, restoring the Inlet to its authorized depth of 10 feet would require the dredging of 15,000 cubic yards of material. To that end, the Murden, which was expected to begin its maintenance dredging of the channel with an emphasis on the ebb and flood shoals this week, is expected to take an additional 5,000 cubic yards of material from the Inlet, which would surpass the estimated 15,000 cubic yards needed to restore the Inlet to 10 feet following Winter Storm Jonas. With the Currituck removing 13,500 cubic yards in March, and another 5,000 removed by the Murden in the coming weeks, a total of 18,500 cubic yards will be removed from the Inlet, surpassing the target goal of 15,000.
Getting the Murden to knock out another 5,000 cubic yards of material from the Inlet channel is considered a bonus from the regularly scheduled project. For the next 10 to 14 days, the Murden is expected to remove a total of 30,000 cubic yards of material from in and around the Inlet. The Murden will target any remaining high spots in the Inlet identified during the post-dredge surveys conducted following the Currituck project last month.
Meanwhile, the Army Corps of Engineers acknowledged the Currituck project, followed by the work of the Murden remains just a temporary fix in advance of a potential larger-scale project to dredge the Inlet to 14-16 feet. For the last two years or so, the Army Corps has worked with local, state and federal officials along with other stakeholders on the longer term plan to dredge the Inlet to a depth that would keep the channel open and eliminate the silting problem that often makes the channel impassable for even modest-sized commercial and recreational vessels.
“We understand that the Ocean City Inlet continues to experience recurring shoaling with the issue becoming exacerbated since Hurricane Sandy,” said Army Corps of Engineers Corporate Communication Officer Chris Gardner on Monday. “With continued constraints of the availability of federal funding for maintenance dredging in general, including the Ocean City Inlet and other channels as well, we are committed to working with the state of Maryland and local partners as we begin a new study to evaluate longer-term solutions to address the chronic shoaling issues at the Ocean City Inlet.”
The latest effort is a regional sediment management study being done as part of the Corps’ Continuing Authorities Program Section 204 program. Gardner said the Corps is in the early stages of the study and is currently developing a scope and path forward. Gardner said the Corps anticipates the study being completed with a finalized recommendation in 2018.