Federal stimulus is boon for dredging

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The federal government’s stimulus package has turned into a boon for pleasure boaters who too often must detour around shoaled channels and silted harbors.

An estimated $1.9 billion of the $787 billion approved in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 is earmarked for dredging.

Dredging will become a much more common sight after a $1.9 billion boost from the federal stimulus package.

It’s part of a $4.6 billion allocation to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to rehabilitate the nation’s waterways, flood-control projects, hydroelectric power plants and Corps-managed lakes and recreation areas — and help put Americans back to work.

Like much of the nation’s infrastructure, America’s waterways have been neglected, says BoatU.S.’s Ryck Lydecker, vice chairman of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway Association, a 200-member group that advocates for the ICW.

“Several hundred harbors are authorized for [routine] dredging,” Lydecker says. “But they have not been maintained. It has been hit-or-miss.”

With stimulus money, the Corps now plans to catch up on some of this backlog.

All told, there are 892 operation and maintenance and 178 construction projects on the list (See sidebar.) They are supposed to employ 57,400 workers directly and 64,000 indirectly.

“Many of these shallow-draft channels have been shortchanged for a decade,” says Lydecker. “Yet they are important to recreational boat traffic and small-boat commercial traffic — fishing boats, tow boats, water taxis. They need dredging.”

The promised dredging for the Atlantic ICW is a longtime dream come true for Rosemary Lynch, executive director of the AIWA for 10 years.

“I am so excited about this,” she says.

That should “go a long way” toward keeping the ICW open in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, where shoaling has been bad, says Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway Association chair David Roach. “Getting money for Georgia is always a blessing and exciting.”

To make the Corps’ list, a project must be far enough along in planning to be executed quickly and result in jobs immediately. Lynch expects most of the work to be under way by September. “Boaters will definitely see relief soon,” she says.

The next big challenge is to get enough funding into the Corps’ regular annual budget for maintenance dredging on the Atlantic ICW, Roach says — $48 million to $50 million a year for 1,300 miles of ICW.

The stimulus money “is the kind of money — and even more — that we need on a routine basis,” he says.

The 2009 ICW dredging budget was $10 million.

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This article originally appeared in the Florida and the South Home Waters section of the July 2009 issue.