Posted on August 10, 2022
For Schuylkill rowers, the second dredge will hopefully be the charm.
The Texas-based contractor Dredgit has begun dredging the portion of the river in front of Boathouse Row — the first phase of a $13 million project that will later include the storied national racecourse farther upstream.
The company will pump the spoils over Fairmount Dam to a waiting barge that will haul it to Fort Mifflin on the Delaware River.
A previous dredge was halted in November 2020 when that contractor, South Jersey-based Atlantic Subsea, refused to continue, saying the river was filled with too much large debris, and prompted a long dispute with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is managing the project.
For now, the rowers are hopeful the muck can be cleared in front of docks and allow smooth sailing once again. In some locations, silt has completely blocked direct access to the river from the boathouse docks. The dredge is expected to take 60 days.
“This restart to the dredging is obviously an important milestone in what has been a long journey,” said Bonnie Mueller, commodore of the Schuylkill Navy, the governing body for the amateur clubs that own the houses along the river. She thanked both the city and Army Corps for sticking with the project.
A representative of Dredgit referred questions to the Army Corps.
“The contractor began cycles of test dredging on Aug. 1,” said Steve Rochette, a spokesperson for the Army Corps. “They are continuing to test aspects of their setup and anticipate ramping up to full production mode sometime this week.”
The project has been beset by troubles since rowers first started to raise funding in 2018.
The river above the dam has not been dredged since 1999, causing silt to build up, leaving mud or land in front of some of the boathouses where there used to be water. Farther upstream, two lanes along the racecourse are also shallower than others, creating a competitive disadvantage.
So rowers raised $4.5 million for the dredge over the course of years hoping to have it completed for regattas, which they fear losing to competitors. The City of Philadelphia, the state, universities with rowing clubs, the William Penn Foundation, the rowing and paddling communities, and members of the public all pitched in.
The Army Corps awarded the contract to Atlantic Subsea, but it complained it hit unanticipated snags such as tires, concrete, trash, trees, railroad ties, and pilings. It said that debris was not part of the deal and required more equipment and money, triggering the dispute with the Army Corps in November 2020 that continues.
In May, Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) announced millions in new federal money to kick-start the stalled project, bringing total funding available to $13 million — far and above the original price tag.
The Army Corps awarded a new project to Dredgit. But part of the money won’t be available until the new fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1, for the second phase of the dredge that includes the national course farther upstream where the major regattas, including Stotesbury and Dad Vail are held.
“We’re still determining the path forward for dredging the racecourse,” Rochette said.