Army Corps, Coast Guard Tackle Shoaling as Dredge Project in Intracoastal Waterway Begins

Harvey Cedars Company Awarded Contract
By GINA G. SCALA | Nov 20, 2019
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

Long Beach Island — Christmas is coming early for recreational boaters who navigate the New Jersey Intracoastal Waterway. The U.S. Army Corps has awarded a more than yearlong contract to Barnegat Bay Dredging Co. to deepen certain areas from Cape May north toward Long Beach Island, helping the Coast Guard to maintain aids to navigation in one of the most traversed areas of the ICW.

The Harvey Cedars-based company is expected to start the dredge work sometime this week in the Cape May ferry area, according to Steve Rochette, public affairs officer of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Philadelphia District.

“After that, the sequence and locations for dredging are still being determined,” he said, noting the sequence may not go exactly south to north. “We’re coordinating with the U.S. Coast Guard on some of the areas with shoals that hinder the navigation of their equipment.”

The ICW is the 3,000-mile inland waterway running from Boston south along the Atlantic seaboard, around the southern tip of Florida and around the Gulf Coast to Brownsville, Texas. It runs through bay areas west of LBI.

The problem areas exist mostly south of the LBI region, Senior Chief Boatswain’s Mate Elijah Reynolds, officer in charge of the Aids to Navigation team, based in Cape May, said recently, noting there is a significant trouble spot in the ICW around Avalon in Cape May County where a navigational channel, due to shoaling, basically doesn’t exist.

The depth of the water in that area, he said, is about 1 to 3 feet. A majority of the ICW is maintained at 6 feet of water.

“If they accomplish what they intend,” Reynolds said, “it will hopefully allow a large Coast Guard cutter to navigate the ICW to remove old pilings and drive new ones.”

In July, the Coast Guard removed and replaced more than 10 broken channel markers in the ICW off LBI over a 55-hour period. In total, Reynolds’ team and the East Coast dive locker removed 22 hazardous channel markers spanning the waters from Cape May to Toms River. Some of the structures had been in the water for roughly four decades; others were about 10 years old, Reynolds said recently.

Due to the age of the aids to navigation off LBI, others are likely to fail in the future, Reynolds said. Dredging trouble spots in the ICW, he said, is a proactive solution to maintaining the aids to navigation in the ICW.

The depth of water varies in the New Jersey ICW due to heavy shoaling in some areas, which makes it difficult and unsafe for large boats to navigate. When Reynolds’ team and the diver locker unit undertook the July project to remove and replace the hazardous structures, he piloted a 49-foot buoy utility stern-loading boat being used as the dive platform. The vessel, which draws about 5 or 6 feet of water, depending on the weight load it’s carrying, can safely transport up to 16,000 pounds.

The Coast Guard cutter required to remove pilings and drive new ones is at least twice that size and needs at least 6 feet of water to maneuver, according to Reynolds.

Based in Baltimore, the Coast Guard cutter Sledge, a 75-foot ship designed for inland waterway construction with the capability of pushing either a 68- or 84-foot construction barge, is likely to be tapped to remove old pilings and drive new ones in the ICW.

Dredging, according to Reynolds, is important because it will allow the Coast Guard to be more proactive with future maintenance of aids to navigation structures in local waterways. He said there are visible signs of a failing structure and having a deep channel for larger ships to maneuver will allow those aids to be removed, replaced or fixed prior to them becoming a hazard to mariners.

The Aids to Navigation team is responsible for ensuring more than 364 structures, including channel markers and buoys, are up to date and functional. Roughly 75 percent are located in the ICW in New Jersey, and a majority of the hazardous markers are located in local waters, Reynolds said.

Reynolds can be reached directly at 609-898-6427 or boaters can call the local Coast Guard station to report a discrepancy with any aids to navigation.

“We can only correct what we know isn’t functioning properly,” Reynolds said.

In addition to federally maintained aids to navigation, the state Department of Transportation is responsible for managing New Jersey’s 215 navigation channels. The DOT’s Office of Maritime Resources assumed the state’s dredging program in 2014, nearly two years after Superstorm Sandy. The office works with the state Department of Environmental Protection to plan for and maintain its own aids to navigation structures, including seasonal stakes, floating buoys and fixed structures in state channels, according to Stephen Schapiro, deputy director of communications for the DOT.

ggscala@thesandpaper.net

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