Officials Seek Solutions To Inlet Shoaling

Officials Seek Solutions To Inlet Shoaling
The Currituck dredging vessel is pictured in the Inlet during a previous project. File Photo

OCEAN CITY – Local officials are not giving up on finding a long-term solution to address Inlet depth issues.

As the Worcester County Commissioners seek a meeting with federal representatives regarding their decision not to move forward with a project to address Inlet shoaling, fishermen – both commercial and recreational – are still facing the daily struggle of getting their boats through the increasingly shallow water. After nearly a decade of advocating for improvements, Sen. Mary Beth Carozza said this week she will continue her efforts despite the latest setback.

“It will take a full-court press and a commitment at every level for us to keep the pressure on both the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the State of Maryland for needed assistance to address the long-term shoaling challenges at the Ocean City Inlet,” she said.

Last week, county staff advised the commissioners the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) was not moving forward with improvements to the Inlet primarily because of the project’s cost.

Staff said USACE reported that the project was estimated at $16 million and would only reduce maintenance dredging by about 50%. The commissioners agreed to request a meeting with agency representatives for more information.

“Ultimately we’d like them to not give up on a structural solution that would reduce the need for dredging,” said Worcester County Chief Administrative Officer Weston Young, adding that perhaps there were other designs that could be considered.

Carozza said local officials, commercial fishermen, recreational boaters and community leaders have been working with the USACE since 2014 to find a shoaling solution.  While USACE has been studying the issue, shoaling has only gotten worse.

“For years, each incoming tide has brought sand into the Inlet and deposited it in the bays and channels,” she said. “Now we’re facing a critical juncture where we have commercial fishing vessels like the Instigator which could not make it through the Inlet last week.”

Though the USACE regularly performs maintenance dredging to keep the Inlet passable, the local community has long sought a more permanent solution, particularly as shoaling gets worse.

Brian Tinkler, general manager of Sunset Marina, says that while the issue initially only impacted commercial boats that draw eight to 10 feet of water, it’s now affecting recreational boats that draw just six to seven feet of water.

“It has an impact on a daily basis,” he said. “It’s a clear problem for both our commercial and our recreational boats.”

Carozza said the USACE decision to abandon the project after eight years of work at the municipal, county, state and federal levels was “frustrating and short-sighted.”

“We have had both a short-term immediate dredging approach and a long-term plan supported by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” she said. “The recent announcement by USACE officials to reverse course and not move forward with the long-term OC Inlet shoaling plans means that we need to regroup with all our partners to ensure that we keep our Inlet open for our commercial fishing industry, recreational boating and the White Marlin Open, which brings in $10 million in our local economy on this one event alone.”

She said Congressman Andy Harris had been involved in the project from the start and she was hopeful he’d continue his efforts.

“We also will call on Governor Wes Moore and ask him to direct his Administration to assist in working with us to ensure that they are able to do both short-term and long-term improvements to the Ocean City Inlet,” Carozza said. “This temporary setback will lead us to redoubling our efforts to protect our Ocean City Inlet and coastal bays, now and into the future.”

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.