Though they do not appear united on much these days, the Worcester County Commissioners were all on the same page when it came to letting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers know how important routine dredging of the Inlet channel continues to be to the area.
Back in March, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers informed Worcester County a $16 million project that has been in the works since 2019 to address chronic Inlet shoaling has been abandoned. The reasoning was the extreme cost as well as the Corps’ belief the project would not eliminate the need for routine maintenance dredging to ensure proper depth for vessel navigation.
In fact, it was reported if and when completed the project would only reduce dredging needs by 50% when it comes to suitable navigation. “Going forward with a $16 million project with close to $8.5 million of the project costs that will need to be covered by the local partners (Worcester and Md. DNR) was not something the Corps was willing to commit, especially in light of the updated modeling and the results from their economic analysis,” wrote Bob Mitchell, the county’s director of environmental programs, in March.
Expressing their disappointment, the commissioners asked to meet with the Corps to learn more about the decision. Additionally, State Senator Mary Beth Carozza chimed in with her commitment continue to work on the matter, saying, “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.”
This week, Daniel Bierly, chief of the civil project development branch for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, explained the decision to terminate a project four years in the works, reiterating the basis was financial as well as practical. Despite the decision, which is final, Bierly said, “I want to focus really on what we do going forward. The Corps is dedicated to maintaining this channel. … The question is how do we do that such that the commercial and recreational users can continue to use this channel.”
While making it clear the structural solution long envisioned is off the table, the Corps is proposing dredging more silt out of the Inlet when it comes to the area twice a year. The concept being to dig deeper and take out more dredged material during the two visits from the Inlet to deepen the channel, which will inevitably fill back in over time.
The Inlet channel depth is an unwinnable fight against the tides and currents. Whether the structural solution proposed by the Corps back in 2019 would have worked is unknown. It was this uncertainty weighed against the $16 million price tag that led to the project being abandoned. We understand this approach considering the amount of dollars at play.
More frequent dredging visits by the Corps is a better approach though than the one pitched this week. Digging deeper and removing more silted material will help in the short term but the natural process will repeat itself. Though it’s a money thing, the best outcome would be at least doubling the maintenance dredging visits.