OCEAN CITY – The Army Corps of Engineers Baltimore District this week announced it was receiving an additional $68 million in federal funding for critical navigation projects across the region including a boost in funding for the continued maintenance dredging of the Ocean City Inlet.
The funding is being provided to the Army Corps of Engineers-Baltimore District through the Trump Administration’s proposed fiscal year 2020 federal budget. The funding announced last week includes roughly $1.1 million for operation and maintenance of the Inlet and navigation channels in the Sinepuxent Bay and $600,000 for Assateague Island bypass operations, in which the dredged sand is beneficially placed immediately south of the inlet along Assateague Island to mitigate the impacts of sediment transport and erosion caused by the Ocean City Inlet and its jetties. Previously, the Assateague Island Restoration project was funded as a separate project by Congress through construction funding.
The Inlet and other channels in and around the commercial harbor naturally fill in and are in constant need of maintenance dredging, but the problem has become more acute in recent years to the point the Inlet is often impassable and unnavigable for larger vessels on even the highest of tides. While maintenance dredging will continue thanks in large part to the supplementary funding announced this week, local, state and federal officials have been exploring a long-term solution including dredging the Inlet channel to a greater depth and possibly even a reconfiguration of the jetties or a relocation of the channel.
ACE-Baltimore District spokesman Chris Gardener outlined a breakdown of the proposed funding for the Inlet and surrounding channels in the president’s budget.
“For the Ocean City Inlet, the bud-get proposes $1.1 million for Ocean City Inlet work, including the same $600,000 amount we see each year toward Assateague Bypass dredging that benefits the Inlet navigation channel and $500,000 for navigation-specific inlet dredging,” he said. “These dredging efforts would be carried out by either the corps’ Dredge Murden or the corps’ Dredge Currituck as is usually the case.”
Gardner explained the corps would utilize the federal funding in the most efficient way possible to keep the Inlet and surrounding channels open to safe navigation.
“We hope to continue to strategically use the funds available to us for both maintenance dredging and Assateague Bypass work to keep the inlet passable to the best of our ability for the commercial and recreational vessels that regularly use it,” he said.
Gardner said the announcement of the increased federal funding last week comes on the heels of the corps’ most recent maintenance dredging of the Inlet.
“While the proposed budget would be for fiscal year 2020, here’s a reminder of the latest regarding inlet dredging,” he said. “The corps just finished up five days of navigation-specific inlet dredging earlier this month that was focused on the shoaling hotspot between buoys 11 and 12. We anticipate the next dredging in the inlet will be the next Assa-teague Bypass dredging cycle which is tentatively scheduled for May, pending the availability of a dredge.”
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.
“As a reminder, the Corps of Engineers, in partnership with the state of Maryland and Worcester County, has formally began work earlier this year to formulate and recommend options for addressing the shoaling that caus-es navigation issues for inlet users, to potentially include structural solutions like jetties or channel modifications like deepening the channel in the inlet,” he said. “No options have been solidified at this time.”
In a larger sense, the corps’ inclusion in the federal fiscal year 2020 budget will allow for navigation-related projects all over the region.
“The funding Baltimore District is anticipated to receive is critical to ensuring safe and efficient navigation, which helps drive the economy, not only at the community level but nationally, and provides for necessary operation and maintenance of major flood risk management projects that reduce risk to communities and infrastructure,” said Col. John Litz, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District commander.