Connecticut town may buy its own dredge

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Frustrated with a delay in securing federal funding to dredge its silted-in North Cove, officials in the shoreline town of Old Saybrook, Conn., are now considering purchasing a dredge to do the work themselves.

Frustrated with a delay in securing federal funding to dredge its silted-in North Cove, officials in the shoreline town of Old Saybrook, Conn., are now considering purchasing a dredge to do the work themselves.

“Recreational boating is huge here and we don’t want our coves turning into marshlands,” says First Selectman Mike Pace. “Our coves get silted in every seven or eight years. Then we go to the Feds to get the dredging done and it doesn’t happen. I think owning and operating our own dredge makes sense, and can be cost- effective.”

If the town does eventually purchase and operate its own dredge, officials say Old Saybrook will be the first town in the state to do so. Pace says the town could purchase a used dredge for about $250,000 and, after leasing a barge, workers could dredge the town’s North Cove, South Cove and around the town dock at the mouth of the Oyster River whenever necessary. To help lessen the cost of purchasing a dredge Old Saybrook could co-own it with surrounding towns, Pace says, or officials could seek a federal grant.

By owning and operating its own dredge, Old Saybrook would face obstacles such as obtaining the proper permits, finding a place to store it and determining what to do with the dredged material. Pace says he’s been in contact with a company, which hauls dirt and other fill, that might be interested in purchasing the dredge spoils.

While a number of people in town approve of the idea, Pace says a number of others aren’t as convinced. “Whenever you try something new there’s always someone who’s going to be against it,” he says.

One such person is Earl Endrich, the town’s harbormaster. Endrich says the responsibility of dredging North Cove should stay with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “I don’t know how else to think about it. The project is too big,” Endrich says. “There are a million details that go into buying and using a dredge. The concept might sound good on the surface but it’s really a complicated situation.”

In 2003 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed to dredge about 250,000 cubic yards of predominantly silt/clay material from the 11-foot-deep entrance channel, 11-foot-deep outer anchorage and 6-foot-deep inner anchorage. A portion of the necessary funding was secured earlier this year, but was diverted to a dredging project in Norwalk (Conn.) Harbor.

North Cove — which has been silting so badly over the past decade that a number of boats, including those owned by mooring holders, cannot get into it — is one of more than 30 areas in the state that are dredged by the federal government.