The federal government's stimulus package has turned out to be a boon for pleasure boaters who too often must detour around shoaled channels and silted harbors.
An estimated $1.9 billion of the $787 billion approved in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 is earmarked for dredging. It's part of a $4.6 billion allocation to the Army Corps of Engineers to rehabilitate the nation's waterways, flood-control projects, hydroelectric power plants, and Corps-managed lakes and recreation areas, and help put Americans back to work.
Like much of the nation's infrastructure, its waterways have been neglected, says BoatU.S.'s Ryck Lydecker, vice chairman of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway Association, a 200-member group that advocates for the ICW.
"Several hundred harbors are authorized for [routine] dredging," Lydecker said. "But they have not been maintained. It has been hit-or-miss."
With stimulus money, the Corps now plans to catch up on some of this backlog. A number of neglected harbors on the Great Lakes are on its list of dredging projects: Grand Haven, Harbor Beach, Holland Harbor, Little Lake, Luddington, Saugituck, St. Joseph, and the Saginaw, St. Clair and St. Mary's rivers.
The New Jersey Intracoastal Waterway will get $1.26 million for dredging critically shoaled areas.
The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, clogged by dangerous shoaling, will get a good scouring: $6.175 million for dredging at Palm Valley in North Florida and constructing a dredge spoil retention area; $5.9 million for dredging in Georgia; $4.4 million for dredging and dike construction along the ICW in North Carolina; $4 million for dredging and dike construction in South Carolina; and $1.75 million for bridge repairs in Virginia and along the Dismal Swamp Canal.
The Corps' civil works list also includes extensive work on locks along the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway; dredging in Long Beach, Morro Bay, and Richmond harbors in California; building a jetty on the Sacramento River at Mission Bay; repairing boat ramps on the Mississippi River between the Missouri and Ohio rivers; dredging in Mississippi's Biloxi Harbor; repairing recreational facilities at a park along the Cape Fear River near Wilmington, N.C.; maintenance dredging on the Oregon Inlet, N.C., ocean bar; dredging the Cold Spring inlet in New Jersey; and paying for more law enforcement at the Clarence J. Brown Dam, an Ohio Corps project.
That's just a few of the 892 operation and maintenance plans and 178 construction projects on the list. They are supposed to employ 57,400 workers directly and 64,000 indirectly.
"Many of these shallow-draft channels have been shortchanged for a decade," said Lydecker. "Yet they are important to recreational boat traffic and small-boat commercial traffic - fishing boats, tow boats, water taxis. They need dredging."
The promised dredging for the Atlantic ICW is a longtime dream come true for Rosemary Lynch, executive director of the AIWA for 10 years. "I am so excited about this," she says. "We're getting just over $22 million for the waterway."
That should "go a long way" toward keeping the ICW open in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, where shoaling has been bad, says AIWA chair David Roach. "Getting money for Georgia is always a blessing and exciting."
To make the Corps' list, a project must be far enough along in planning to be executed quickly and result in jobs immediately. Lynch expects most of the work to be under way by September.
"Boaters will definitely see relief soon," she said.
Roach says the next big challenge is to get enough funding into the Corps' regular annual budget for maintenance dredging on the Atlantic ICW. He says that's $48 million to $50 million a year for 1,300 miles of ICW.
The stimulus money "is the kind of money - and even more - that we need on a routine basis," he says. The 2009 ICW dredging budget is $10 million.