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Worcester commissioners approve letter of support for new dredging vessel

The Murden dredging vessel, constructed in 2012, is pictured in the Ocean City inlet in August. Lobbyist Paul Ellington argued to the Worcester County Commissioners on Tuesday that the acquisition of a new dredging vessel would be beneficial to the Chesapeake and coastal bays areas, as the current vessels are becoming more and more subject to repair.

Posted on October 23, 2023

The possibility of a do-it-yourself dredging program for the Ocean City inlet and other Maryland waters became less remote Tuesday when lobbyist Paul Ellington of the State and Local Advisors asked the Worcester County Commissioners to join the push for a state-owned vessel.

In response, the commissioners approved a letter to be sent to the state government asking for a dredge vessel dedicated to the Chesapeake and coastal bays areas.

Bob Mitchell, the director for Environmental Programs, said acquiring such a vessel would also be prudent for addressing dredging needs within the Chesapeake Bay, the Potomac River, and the Delaware Canal.

Currently, two hopper dredging vessels based out of Wilmington, North Carolina serve the entire East Coast region from Maine to Florida as part of an Army Corps of Engineers contract. The Murden was built in 2012 and the Currituck was built in 1974.

“If these vessels need maintenance, they would be out of service for at least six months,” Mitchell said. “If a hurricane arises in an area other than the coastal bays, such as Louisiana, Georgia, or up north in Maine or Massachusetts, those vessels get pressed into service in that area.”

Scheduling the vessels to perform dredging work is hard, as well as acquiring extra days for the vessel to be in the area to remove more dredging material. As cumbersome of a process that is, Mitchell said, he’s grateful for projects such as the Corps’ removal of material from inland waters behind Assateague.

When dredging needed to be completed for the White Marlin Open, the Corps only agreed to dredge after the tournament was held, he said.

“There’s a fixed removal rate, but getting the extra days to remove material is like a congressional order,” Mitchell said.

Michell said that in order to acquire the new dredge, apart from conducting a series of studies, there also needs to be discussion with U.S. senators who work for the entire East Coast region.

“The current vessels work around the clock, 365 days a year,” Mitchell said. “These boats have been around for a long time, withstanding storms, and especially the older boat would need maintenance. Anytime we need those boats, we’ve got tight windows.”

Mitchell says that to get the ball rolling on the third dredge would ultimately be a long-term solution for the coastal bays area.

“We’ve sent multiple letters to elected officials that we’re waiting to hear back on,” Mitchell said. “It takes congressional appropriation, so we need to work through our federal elected officials to bring this to light.”

Ellington recommended that the commissioners send the request for the new vessel, explaining that the dredging would impact Maryland trade significantly.

“There was a ship that got stuck in the shipping channel for a few weeks,” Ellington said. “Those instances will constantly happen if we don’t do things differently.”


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