Posted on December 18, 2023
Confirmation that DNREC will begin dredging on two projects in southern Delaware early next year was welcome news for a business owner who has been waiting for the project to be finished.
Tom Fowler, who owns a marina and runs two charter boats, this week said he’s glad dredging will resume after it was stopped earlier this year, due to what DNREC said were environmental restrictions, and that he hopes the project is finally completed.
There was also confusion about whether or not dredging of the eastern prong of White Creek would be finished.
Earlier this year, Sean McCann, operations manager for the dredging company, ResilientSeas, headquartered in Peabody, Mass., told the Coastal Point that dredging of a section of White Creek was completed six days before the contract with DNREC ended. Workers were ready to pull out equipment and prepare to leave when they received word that the eastern prong would be worked on.
The dredge arrived in the Cristy Lane area after DNREC sent several conflicting e-mails directing the company to dredge the area, then not to, then saying it would be too expensive, before finally agreeing to let work begin.
“We got e-mails to proceed. Then, ‘Don’t proceed.’ Then, ‘We don’t understand the cost.’ Then they said it was too expensive. … [Then] we got word to proceed. We are trying to do what’s right for the residents of the area. We have always strived to be good contractors and do a good job for all stakeholders,” McCann said.
“There was some flipflopping back and forth last week — to dredge it, not to dredge it. … In all my years in this business — and I’m going on 17 years — I have never had this before, but it doesn’t make me angry. … Stuff like this happens,” McCann said.
But, this week, DNREC issued a news release stating dredging will start at the southern end of the Assawoman Canal, and when the canal portion is completed, likely in early February, dredge crews will move into White Creek and resume the project there.
Dredging is expected to be finished by late winter or early spring of 2024.
Fowler this week said he is “thrilled they are coming back and that they will finish White Creek and get the canal dredged.”
“It shows their commitment to getting this project done,” said Fowler, who is allowing the dredging company to use his property to tie its barges.
The projects will be overseen by shoreline and waterway management officials at DNREC and the contractor, McLean Contracting Company of Glen Burnie, Md.
Approximately 80,000 cubic yards of shoaled sediment will be removed from the two waterways, to restore White Creek and the Assawoman Canal to “previous depths for safer boating and recreational use.”
For White Creek, an area 60 feet wide and 12,400 feet long is to be dredged — from the mouth of the creek at the Indian River Bay to where the main channel splits into two prongs near Betts Avenue in Ocean View. The eastern prong of White Creek was dredged 2,650 feet last spring before the project was paused, while the western prong was dredged 4,100 linear feet before the environmental window closed on the project in 2023.
For the Assawoman Canal, an area 35 feet wide and 2,400 feet long had been dredged, between its confluence with White Creek and the Central Avenue bridge, earlier in 2023.The remainder of the canal will be dredged with a channel width of 35 feet.
The White Creek channel will be restored to a depth of 4 feet below mean lower low water (MLLW), which is the average height of the lowest tide recorded at a tide station each day during a 19-year recording period. (MLLW is also known as the tidal datum and is used as a “zero” reference.) The northern Assawoman Canal will be restored to a depth of 3 feet below MLLW.
Funding for the $8.48 million project will come from appropriations to DNREC in the 2022- and 2023-fiscal-year bond bills and the Waterway Management Fund.
White Creek flows from the south to the north into the Indian River Bay, connecting the Assawoman Canal to the bay, while serving numerous marinas and boat ramps for recreational activities. The White Creek navigation channel was last dredged by DNREC as part of a phased program from 1997 through 2001. The Assawoman Canal was most recently dredged from 2010 to 2015. The eastern and western prongs of White Creek and the confluence of the Assawoman Canal were last dredged in early 2023, according to information provided by DNREC.
Dredged material will be used to restore what DNREC called “historically degraded wetlands” in the Muddy Neck Marsh complex at the south end of the Assawoman canal.