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Stuck boaters looking ahead to Indian River dredge

Children wave to people on land the Miss Ene III, from Millsboro, as it makes its trip back from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian River Marina by way of the Indian River Inlet in 2022. Millsboro-area boaters have expressed frustration with the need for the river in that area to be dredged to avoid getting stuck.

Posted on August 14, 2023

DNREC this week confirmed plans to dredge the Indian River near Millsboro within the next year. But in the meantime, boats are getting stuck in the mud, with one boater who was stranded with his family for more than two hours last week so aggravated, he said, that he considered selling his summer home.

“It made me feel like I wanted to sell, because we bought on the canal so we could go boating, and now this happened. We have to come back home before the low tide. Last week, we had to cut it short with our daughter and our grandchildren,” said Jim Molloy, a Long Island resident with a second home in Delaware.

Later, he said, he changed his mind about moving, but he still wants to see the waterway cleared.

Michael Globetti, media relations manager for DNREC, this week confirmed upcoming dredging in an e-mail reply to the Coastal Point.

“There is widespread sedimentation over a section of the Indian River near Millsboro,” he acknowledged, saying that DNREC’s shoreline and waterway management section “is working toward plans for a small-scale dredging project there within the next year and for a larger-scale dredging project at that section of the river more than a year from now.”

“But, meantime, it kind of puts a damper on your day,” said Molloy, whose neighbors near Cupola Park in Millsboro also complain about getting stuck. It was those neighbors who called Compass Marine Services to get his pontoon boat towed.

Compass Marine supervisor Beth Batten this week told the Coastal Point that vendors use her Sarasota, Fla.-based company, which called an airboat to help Molloy after a regular towboat also got stuck.

“These airboats have enormous fans on the back, so there is no motor hanging over the edge — no in-board. It pushes so much air it propels the boat. Our company dispatches them. We dispatch for the entire United States for insurance companies. If they have a towing endorsement, they call us. We facilitate it and get them what they need,” she explained.

“When you hit sand, the motor starts slowing down,” Molloy noted. “It starts kicking up mud instead of water, so you pull the motor up right away. We had a good idea what was happening. Then we just stopped,” he said, adding that he was with his wife, daughter and two grandchildren on a six-hour boating excursion and ended up stuck for more than two hours. The boat wasn’t damaged, due to the mud being soft, he said.

Jim Philip, who also boats on the Indian River, has also gotten stuck.

“For years now, those of us that boat from or near Cupola Park in Millsboro have had to deal with a situation that could quite possibly lead to a disaster for an unknowing boater,” Philip told the Coastal Point.

“There is a small body of water that is just east of Millsboro that has to be navigated to get in and out. Most of us that live here have learned the unmarked passage for coming and going. We still see folks that don’t know the path get stuck. The safest time to depart or return is at, or near, high tide. So, with that said, boaters that are not familiar with the route will come from down river or the Indian River Bay without realizing that they are about to enter a trap.

“‘Trap’ is the word I use to describe what is happening. There are channel markers meant to assist boaters, meant to show a safe passage. However, if you don’t know better and go through the markers, you have a very high risk of getting stuck. The safe route, on the far east end of what we call the Mud Flats, is outside of the markers. Boaters get stuck almost on a daily basis on the weekends,” Philip said.

He said DNREC has promised dredging year after year, “and it hasn’t happened the entire five-plus years I have lived in Millsboro.”

“If a boater was to get stuck when the tide is ebbing, they could be stuck for up to 10 hours or longer, waiting for the tide to rise again, giving them a chance to free themselves from the mud. We have had neighbors try to bring water to stuck boaters using kayaks, and they were not able to reach the boat,” said Philip, who moved to the Millsboro area in 2017 and bought a boat the next year.

“They said they were going to dredge. Then the dredge broke. It sat in front of my house, broken. … The next year, they had other projects in the queue and they had to go through them The next year was COVID, so nothing was happening during COVID. Then they were going to rebuild the swampland by the sewage treatment plant. They never did it. I talked to someone at DNREC, and that person said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not approve the plan to rebuild the swamplands,” Philip said, adding that the experience has been “a wheel of excuses.”

Although he hasn’t given up on the area being dredged and said he understands there is a process, he wants to see action.

“If they can’t dredge anytime soon, put up warning signs so, where they marked the channel, you can use it. Because, right now, you can’t — because the channel has shifted,” he said.

Molloy said this is the first year he has boated in the river and that he, too, followed the channel markers but still went aground.

“The markers are not right. Everybody who lives here tells me about it. That river was supposed to be dredged two years ago,” he said, adding that he sent an e-mail to DNREC and received a reply confirming it will be done by the end of the year.

“Everybody told us it was low, but we figured if we stayed between the markers we’d be OK. We were certainly surprised,” Molloy said.


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