No federal dredging funds: Keating says town should consider fronting cost

Written by Susanna Sheehan
 | Wednesday, 11 June 2014 15:48

Federal funding for dredging Duxbury Harbor may be a long time coming, so if the town wants the job done, it should consider paying for it itself, according to Congressman Bill Keating, who spoke at a meeting on dredging held last week at the Duxbury Bay Maritime School.

Keating joined State Representative Josh Cutler and representatives from the offices of Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Ed Markey at the Tuesday evening meeting, which was also attended by Duxbury’s selectmen, town manager, harbormaster officials, oyster growers and others with local maritime interests.

The discussion centered on the need to dredge the anchorage in Duxbury and the navigational channel that leads to it. The anchorage is 21 acres and the channel is one-mile long and should be 100 feet wide and eight feet deep. Both were last dredged in 1997. Over the past 17 years, parts of the harbor and channel have become shallower, filled in by sand and silt from storms and shoaling. There are even parts of the bay that rise above the surface during low tide.

The shallower harbor has created a safety problem for the Duxbury harbormaster and is an issue for others who use the bay for both recreational and economic reasons, such as the public sailing and rowing programs at the Duxbury Maritime School and the oyster farmers trying to access their shellfish beds. There are 2,000 boats moored in the harbor.

According to Harbormaster Don Beers, his department is the primary law enforcement agency on local water and is responsible for search and rescue, port security and enforcing the US Coast Guard security zones and regulations, which extend to the shoreline around the Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth.

“I have very strong public safety concerns,” said Beers. “The problem we have right now is at low tide it is extremely difficult for us to respond to certain sectors from our facility.”

DBMS executive director Chuck Leonard said 2,100 students – both children and adults – participate in competitive and recreational sailing and rowing programs at the school. He said the narrower channel presents “a safety factor” when boaters pass the rowing shells entering and exiting the school at low tide.

Also, Leonard said, the programs are also being affect- ed because the school can’t get to their boats at low tide.

“It’s getting increasingly difficult as the shoaling builds up to access our fleet of 25 coach boats and there are a couple hours a day where we can’t use them at all when we used to be able to use them at all tides,” said Leonard.

The shallower harbor also affects the local marina, Bayside Marine, which employees 35 people and services over 300 boats, and has the only boat launching ramp that’s available at both high and low tides, as well as the 140- year old Duxbury Yacht Club, which consists of a fleet of 350 boats for 550 families. All these organizations said they need the harbor dredged so that they could then dredge their own areas, because combining the smaller dredging programs with the larger one makes the most economic sense. Also, they have already obtained the necessary federal, state and local permits to dredge their shoreline areas and have the funding in place. Duxbury residents have set aside $80,000 to dredge the town pier and harbormaster’s area.

“We are adversely affected right now around our dockage area and we are in definite need of being dredged. We really need your help,” Vice commodore of the Duxbury Yacht Club Sandy Salmela told Keating.

Because Duxbury is a federally authorized anchorage, it is eligible for federal funding. However, there is no money currently available, said Keating.

“The chances of getting federal funds for this fiscal year are very slim,” Keating said.

According to Keating, most of the money for this type of dredging comes from the federal Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, which is funded by taxes on ocean liners and cargo ships. Because most of the money comes from these bigger shipping concerns, the majority of it goes back to the larger ports around the country. He and other legislators tried to pass a bill to make 10 percent of this money available for smaller ports but that didn’t happen, he said. He said there might be some money left over in the fund at the end of the fiscal year in August but he was not optimistic Duxbury would get it.

Keating said in March he met with the Army Corps of Engineers to make them aware of Duxbury’s need for dredging and he learned of a new program that the Corps sup- ports in which communities paid for the dredging them- selves and hoped to receive a reimbursement from the federal government for some or all of the cost.

This new program was done in Oregon and Connecticut and the Army Corps was “quite enthusiastic” about it, Keating said. However, there are no guarantees of reimbursement, he added.

“You have to make the decision if the risk is worth it,” he said.

The last estimate for dredging the federal anchorage was $3.5 million, but that price is a few years old and could have increased.

Keating said he recognized the importance of Duxbury’s dredging project and that he will keep working to find funds for it.

“There’s no doubt the need is there,” he said. “It’s on the Army Corps’ radar. My feeling is that this is likely to get done, but the question is when.”