Posted on May 2, 2017
By Susanne Cervenka, app.com
Bart Major eagerly waited for the Shark River to be dredged — especially after being one of the unfortunate boaters left stuck in mud at low tide trying to return to his dock.
Now, Major finds himself among another group of boaters: Those questioning whether the $7.6 million project to remove decades worth of sediment left the river’s navigational channels as deep as state officials say they are.
“One little mistake and you’ll get stuck,” Major said. “It’s just not as deep as they say it is.”
The project took nearly 20 years of pushing from local leaders to get New Jersey Department of Transportation to agree to the project.
Even then, the project nearly became a victim of last summer’s Transportation Trust Fund shutdown. It restarted only after state officials realized they could lose $3 million to $4 million in federal reimbursements by delaying the work.
The project wrapped up earlier this year with officials announcing that it restored about 9,000 feet of navigable channels. DOT surveys after the dredging show the Shark River’s channels are now about 5 to 6 feet deep at low tide.
Boaters say the new channel is an improvement over what they had previously, but they also debate the new depths in online fishing forums like njfishing.com. Major said his depth gauge shows anywhere from 2.9 to 3.5 feet of water beneath his 30-foot boat at low tide.
“Is it passable? Yes. Is it at low tide anywhere near 5 feet? No,” he said.
Some boaters, however, wonder if the issue has a much more simple fix: new navigational markers.
The area dredged is not the exact same path as the one boaters used last summer. Seasonal buoys mark the new path, but the permanent channel markers still mark the old path. At low tide, they’re clearly in the mud.
That can be a problem for boaters who are not familiar with the river or those not using GPS to help them navigate the river depths.
“I think it’s more directional. People are being directed into shallow ends instead of being directed into areas that were dredged,” said John Dempsey, who spearheaded the Save the Shark River, a grassroots campaign of boaters, fishermen and homeowners pushing to preserve the river.
New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, which is responsible for channel markers, said they have bids out for new permanent navigational markers and expects to have them in the correct locations within a month.