OCEAN CITY — The Army Corps of Engineers hopper dredge Currituck is expected to arrive in Ocean City in early August for a scheduled dredging project around the Inlet and a smaller quick-fix project, but the arrival of the vessel is not expected to impact White Marlin Open boat traffic.
The Currituck was scheduled to arrive in Ocean City next month for the next cycle in the Assateague bypass project. Three or four times a year, the federal Army Corps of Engineers sends the Currituck or its sister ship Murden to Ocean City to conduct routine dredging in and around the Inlet and the mouth of the commercial harbor.
When the Currituck returns next month, likely during the first or second week of August, it will conduct the typical Assateague bypass project, which removes material in and around the navigation channel with an emphasis on the ebb and flood shoals which traditionally trap sand moving southward toward Assateague. This time around, however, the Currituck will also spend a few days during its anticipated month-long stay working on known trouble spots in the main navigation channel in the Inlet.
“The Army Corps is estimating an early August arrival for the Currituck or maybe the second week depending on the weather and progress on other jobs it is doing prior to Ocean City,” said Chris Gardner of the Army Corps Baltimore District Corporate Communication Office this week. “The plan is to spend about a month in Ocean City for the Assateague bypass work that also benefits Inlet navigation, but it would also spend three days doing the targeted navigation dredging just within the channel with the navigation funds.”
Gardner was referring to the influx of additional federal funding for maintenance dredging of the Inlet announced earlier this summer.
In June, the federal Army Corps of Engineers announced an additional $500,000 for continued maintenance dredging at the Ocean City Inlet had been added to the Corps’ already approved $250,000. The funding, which essentially triples the money earmarked for occasional dredging of the Inlet navigation channel in Ocean City, was allocated through the Army Civil Works Program.
The Currituck’s scheduled arrival in the Ocean City Inlet puts it in the same window as the annual White Marlin Open. Despite between 300 and 400 large sportfishing vessels going in and out of the Inlet during the tournament, Gardner said there were no plans to alter the schedule.
The Currituck and Murden are unique vessels specially equipped to handle major dredging issues in ports up and down the east coast, and as a result, are in high demand. However, Gardner said this week the arrival of the Currituck in early August should have little or no impact on the White Marlin Open or the other big offshore tournaments during the month.
“We would not reschedule the dredge based on the tournament because it’s hard enough to get them here and they’ve got such a tight schedule to begin with,” he said. “At the same token, we would not anticipate ongoing bypass work to be much of an issue in the first place. With that being said, we would work to try to minimize any potential negative impacts to the tournament from our operation.”
For a variety of natural and man-made reasons, the channels in and around the Inlet and near the mouth of the commercial harbor in West Ocean City naturally fill in from time to time throughout the year. In recent years, however, the problem has become more acute to the point it has curtailed commercial and recreational activity out of Ocean City.
The Inlet is the Army Corps’ responsibility and the federal agency has shown a willingness to be part of the solution. However, before any major changes take place in the Inlet, the ACE wants to conduct a feasibility study to chart a course for action. The study is a necessary first step and is essentially a requirement before the federal government invests potentially millions of dollars into a long-term fix.
The Army Corps’ study is expected to cost $1.2 million, of which the federal government would fund half, or $600,000. The remaining $600,000 would be funded by a combination of state and local sources including 50 percent, or $300,000 from the state and 25 percent each, or $150,000 each from Worcester County and the Town of Ocean City. However, the town of Ocean City and Worcester County remain at odds on how to split the local share, if at all.
In the meantime, the Army Corps of Engineers will continue to send the Currituck or Murden to Ocean City a few times a year for regularly-scheduled maintenance dredging in the Inlet and will supplement that activity with short-term fix projects in the known trouble spots if and when possible utilizing the increased budget announced earlier this summer.