Dredgers could see more work as water bill broadens use for sediment

The Corps of Engineers will get more money for coastal beach replenishment and flood control projects, and more leeway for creatively using sediment from navigation dredging projects.

Little-noticed provisions in the final version of the Water Resource Development Act recently passed by Congress authorize new efforts for the Corps to use sand and other sediments to build up beaches, dunes and wetlands threatened by sea level rise. Potentially it could bring even more work for the dredging industry, beyond some $2.5 billion already authorized for the Corps’ North Atlantic Division.

The legislation sets the stage for one pilot project where the Corps can choose 10 project areas where sediment would be used beneficially with a federal cost share — rather than being paid for entirely by state or local government. Those projects could use sediment from both federal and state dredging projects.

Critically, the provision also gives those projects more allowance to deviate from the “Federal Standard” set in the early 2000s, which required use of lowest-cost option for sediment placement, or alternatively partner agencies taking on more cost for beneficial re-use.

“Sediment is a critical resource for building and restoring protective beach and dune systems and restoring coastal environments,” said Derek Brockbank, executive director of American Shore & Beach Preservation Association, an advocacy group that lobbies in favor of such projects.

That part of the WRDA legislation reflects the Corps’ own strategic thinking, as Lynn Bocamazo, chief of the Corps of Engineers’ Hurricane Sandy Relief Branch, outlined at the ASBPA’s national conference in late October at Long Branch, N.J.

A burst of funding authorized after Hurricane Sandy struck the mid-Atlantic in 2012 will be winding down, and the Corps must prioritize future shore protection needs. Bocamazo said that will include taking a larger, regional view across the agency’s various projects — navigation channels, beach-building and ecosystem restoration — to make more efficient use of sediment.

An aerial view of three Jamaica Bay Marsh Islands in Queens and Brooklyn, N.Y., restored in 2012 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District and regional partners by placing clean sand over roughly 75 acres of marshland. USACE photo.

An aerial view of three Jamaica Bay Marsh Islands in Queens and Brooklyn, N.Y., restored in 2012 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District and regional partners by placing clean sand over roughly 75 acres of marshland. USACE photo.

Despite many Republican members’ professed skepticism of climate change, Congress explicitly directed the Corps to prioritize feasibility studies to protect coastal infrastructure from rising sea level. Along with beach replenishment, that includes tidal marsh restoration, as the Corps’ New York district has done in wetlands around New York Harbor and Long Island Sound.

Some $420 million went into shore protection projects from Rhode Island to Virginia after Hurricane Sandy and the new water resources bill could help set in motion a similar long-term effort for the states from North Carolina to Alabama. It authorizes the Corps’ South Atlantic Division to identify risks and vulnerabilities to increased hurricane and storm surge damage as a result of sea level rise.

About the author

Kirk Moore

Associate Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been a field editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for almost 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.

1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    Thank you for putting this information out there. Of great concern is the ‘beneficial use of dredge material on wetlands’. The USACE has had great success in beach replenishment and dune building BUT the placement of dredge material on wetlands is quite another thing. We have 40+ years of regulations protecting wetlands from the deposition of fill – and that’s what dredge material is. The photo of Jamaica Bay is justifiably a degraded wetland with very low elevation, no vegetation and less function. The wetlands in NJ however are not in as bad condition as Jamaica Bay. The several beneficial reuse pilot projects in NJ have been touted as ‘win/win’ projects but in fact far from it – the best we can say is they were learning experiences. You cannot use one parameter to determine if a wetland/marsh is degraded – how can we place tons of material on a wetland and expect it to continue to function? Keep the dredge material on the beaches and in dunes (on the beaches), or in areas where wetlands vegetation is no longer present not on functioning wetlands. If you have an interest check out the mess that was made on Fortescue, Avalon and Ring Island (NJ) in the name of beneficial reuse of dredge material – but go with an impartial guide – not with the program representatives.

Leave A Reply

© Diversified Communications. All rights reserved.