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$1.6 Million Harbor Dredge Comes Up Short

The Milton Harbor channel dredge underway in November 2022.

Posted on May 3, 2023

The City-funded $1.6 million dollar dredging of Milton Harbor has come up vastly short of delivering its targeted depth of five feet. A hydrographic survey by the City’s consultant Coastline Consulting & Development shows less than 10% of the channel achieved the minimum depth of five feet.

It is a bit muddy as far as what comes next.


Water in the harbor had become so shallow that it became hard to navigate to and from Rye’s municipal boat basin at low tide. The US Coast Guard removed its buoys saying they could not safely conduct maintenance. And finally, the area’s status as a federal waterway was endangered (which potentially eliminates certain types of State and Federal funding for various projects). Earlier this month, the US Coast Guard said it would not be returning its navigational buoys until the full five foot dredge is delivered.

A hydrographic survey by the City’s consultant Coastline Consulting & Development from March 2023 shows less than 10% of the channel achieved the minimum depth of five feet. This shows channel depth by the Milton Harbor House. The depths inside the red lines should all show five feet or more.

City staff is figuring out what comes next in consultation with the Boat Basin Commission and the City’s consultant. “We are going to be talking to all the parties about what the right approach is going to be,” said Rye City Manager Greg Usry. “The dredger and the City are constrained by the permanent requirements.”

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The good news is that the dredger is already returning this fall to work on the separate dredge of the boat basin. Various permits from the US Army Corps and State environmental authorities remain in place. And for boaters this summer, the City will maintain private navigational buoys and the harbor depth has been reduced, just not to the target depth of five feet.

(DOCUMENT: The February 23, 2023 hydrographic survey of the Milton Harbor navigation channel and Rye Boat Basin.)

The bad news is the City has paid $1.6 million and has only achieved 10% of its goal. And the environmental permits, while open, are for a maximum amount of material (silt from the harbor) to be removed. What happens if the dredger hits the maximum material removal allowed and still misses the five foot target? Will the Coast Guard ever return its buoys? Can the boat basin remain a sustainable operation? Does the City get a partial refund of the $1.6 million?

Overseen by H&L Contracting, LLC of Hauppauge and conducted by its subsidiary Patriot Marine of New Haven, the dredging operation employed technology that showed the dredge operator the depth in real time. And was told during an inspection tour last fall, that this information is shared instantaneously with company executives and consultants. Combine the technology and the fact this was not the dredger’s first rodeo, the inability to miss the mark so severely seems baffling.

(VIDEO: This software shows the dredge operator digging silt from the Milton Harbor channel in real time last fall.)

And the potential ugly is what happens if Milton Harbor loses its federal waterway designation? What does this really mean? What access is lost to various federal and state funding opportunities?

In a letter to New York State’s Coastal Zone Management Program in February 2022, Rye Mayor Josh Cohn ended by saying “to have the Coast Guard remove the navigation buoys would be detrimental (to) the continuing existence of the Boat Basin and the hundreds of recreational users of this public facility.”

Muddy waters ahead.


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