ACE wants to eliminate ‘window’ for state port dredging

A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposal would allow maintenance dredging year-round at the State Port of Morehead City instead of just in the winter and early spring. (News-Times photo)

WILMINGTON — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has proposed eliminating the “window” in which hopper dredging is allowed at the state ports of Morehead City and Wilmington, a move the agency says would increase the availability of dredge boats and ensure the work can occur year-round, on a timely basis.

In its draft environmental assessment for the elimination of the dredging window, the ACE states, “Maintenance dredging of existing channels will result in minor and short-term impacts to water quality, noise, benthic (bottom-dwelling) organisms, important fisheries and protected marine reptiles and mammals and critical habitat.”

However, it adds, “Hopper dredge availability is limited, making it very challenging to adequately maintain the (Wilmington) District’s two deep draft navigation projects, Wilmington Harbor and Morehead City Harbor, within the existing environmental window,” which is from Dec. 1 to April 15 of each year.

Greg Rudolph, manager of the Carteret County Shore Protection Office, said Tuesday the county supports the proposal.

He said it would “allow for year-round maintenance dredging. This (proposal) is not surprising, because they (ACE) have been requesting and granted exceptions to the window for the regional hopper (dredge) contracts the past couple of years.”

Mr. Rudolph, whose office is responsible for dredging projects and beach nourishment in Carteret County, added in the email he has “no idea if this will have any benefit for us in the beach nourishment arena.”

But, he added, “We are supportive of this proposal as it will help the Corps implement the Morehead City Harbor (dredging plan) more cost effectively and … hopefully ensure we keep receiving sand in Fort Macon (State Park) and Atlantic Beach” every third year when at least a portion of the port harbor is dredged.

The ACE has already announced it will use a hopper dredge at the State Port of Morehead City this winter and place the dredged sand in Atlantic Beach, from just east of the Fort Macon bathhouse to The Circle development district. It’s expected to be 1.14 million cubic yards of sand for the beach and is free to the town and the state.

A hopper dredge is like a vacuum cleaner. It sucks up the material and transports it elsewhere for discharge.

“While other methods of dredging are available besides hopper dredging, hopper dredging is preferred in the portions of the harbors … due to efficiency, safety and economic advantage” over other methods, such as suction pipeline and bucket-and-barge, the ACE assessment states.

The EA states the agency would take steps, such as monitoring and mitigation, during each dredging event to lessen temporary impacts to benthic organisms and other aquatic species, water quality and noise levels.

There will be opportunities for public comment as the ACE proposal moves along.

Some state agencies have already weighed in. For example, the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, in a letter to ACE from Daniel Govoni, the state agency’s federal consistency coordinator, states the proposed change is “consistent to the maximum extent practicable” with state environmental policies. However, Mr. Govoni also requested that if the change takes place, the ACE implement “minimization and avoidance” efforts to reduce potential impacts to aquatic species.

To see the entire draft EA, visit saw-nav.usace.army.mil/FILES/Public_Notice/Wilmington_Morehead_City_Harbors_Maintenance_Dredging_Draft_EA_19Aug2020.pdf.

 

Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email Brad@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.

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