OCEAN CITY — After recent storms accelerated the chronic shoaling of the Ocean City Inlet to the point navigation has been compromised, the federal Army Corps is heading to the resort to dredge the navigation channel with an emergency operation.
While the Inlet and other channels in and around the commercial harbor naturally fill in and are in continual need of maintenance dredging, the problem has become even more acute in recent weeks after a series of coastal storms accelerated the issue. In recent weeks, some vessels operating out the commercial harbor have found it difficult, if not impossible, to pass through the Inlet even on the highest of tides because of the shoaling of the navigational channel.
Congressman Andy Harris (R-1) said this week the Army Corps of Engineers, which routinely dredges the Inlet and surrounding channels, has expedited an effort to dredge the Inlet on an emergency basis. Harris said he reached out to the Army Corps seeking immediate assistance after discovering the Inlet had shoaled in to the point even modest-sized vessels had difficulty passing through the channel.
“Ocean City is Maryland’s only Atlantic coast seaport, and small businesses across Maryland’s First District depend on the Ocean City Inlet for the transport of goods,” he said. “The buildup of sand now restricts access to the Inlet for fishing vessels and larger ships, and has become a threat to the livelihood of many Eastern Shore residents. In fact, a fishing trawler recently attempted to return to their dock with a load of black sea bass before getting temporarily grounded in the Ocean City Inlet. The ship was freed, but was unable to return to their dock and unload. I am grateful to the Army Corps of Engineers for their cooperation and immediate attention to this matter, so that future problems will be avoided.”
Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Chris Gardner said the federal agency recognized the need for immediate remediation work at the Ocean City Inlet and will be sending the dredge-hopper Murden to the resort area as soon as possible.
“The upcoming dredging is a special trip where the Murden will be focusing just on navigational dredging for five to seven days, as opposed to bypass dredging, which it generally does every third load from an area within the Inlet,” he said. “That should have a pretty positive impact on navigation, especially since the Murden is the larger of the two dredges, and should help address some of the impact from the powerful storms earlier this month.”
Gardner said the most recent issues at the Ocean City Inlet caused the Army Corps to redirect the Murden and other resources to the resort.
“We have coordinated with our teammates in the Wilmington and Philadelphia districts to have the Murden rearrange its schedule to be able to address the significant navigation issues being experienced at the Ocean City Inlet as soon as possible,” he said. “We are working with the state of Maryland, which is providing us with post-storm survey data and the Murden will be using that post-storm survey data to ensure it’s using it’s dredging time as efficiently as possible.”
Gardner said the Murden is scheduled to arrive in the Ocean City area within the next two weeks, or within a month of the winter storms earlier this month that accelerated the shoaling problem.
“We are scheduled for the dredge to arrive in the first week of February, which would essentially be within about a month of the powerful storms that almost certainly had significant impacts on the Inlet,” he said. “These dredges, the only two for the east coast, are on very tight schedules and are in very high demand, especially considering the scope of the storms that impacted Ocean City, but also throughout the rest of the east coast. The fact that we were able to get dredging for Ocean City accelerated, I think speaks to the fact that we know how important this dredging is and that we’re doing whatever we can within out authorities and capabilities to help with these ongoing navigation issues.”