Housatonic River dredging starts this week

An aerial view of the mid-lower portion of the Housatonic River. — Contributed photo

A project to begin dredging of the Housatonic River is set to begin this week.

The Stratford Waterfront and Harbor Management Commission (SWHMC), in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, announced Tuesday that the Housatonic River Federal Navigation Dredging Project will begin at the end of the week. This largest state-funded dredging project to date will remove about 300,000 cubic yards of clean sand from the river’s channel to be used for beach nourishment at Hammonasset State Park.

The  project was originally scheduled to start last fall, but was postponed a year to allow enough time for the Army Corps of Engineers to select the best and most efficient bid from dredging firms. Early this year the Cashman Dredging and Marine Contracting Co. of Quincy, Mass., was awarded the $10-million contract with funds provided to the Army Corps of Engineers through the Connecticut Port Authority.

“For the first time since 1976 the channel will finally be dredged to a depth of at least 18 feet deep and 200 feet wide from just south of Goose Island to just beyond the end of the breakwater at the mouth of the river,” said Bill Rock, chairman of the dredging committee for the SWHMC, the project’s local lead agency. “Not only will this facilitate long-term safe navigation for all vessels but it will present new opportunities relating to the water-dependent aspects of the redevelopment of the Stratford Army Engine Plant, which has the potential to become the premier destination on Long Island Sound.”

Rock added that “efforts to bring this project along included proposing and designing of the 2012 Phase I dredging project which incorporated the use of the ACOE’s hopper dredge Currituck. That provided comprehensive data necessary to advance to this much larger Phase II project. It also identified the Housatonic as a good source of clean sand suitable for beach nourishment, paving the way for this project.”

This point is important because in recent legal action taken by New York state against Connecticut, the Housatonic River project was praised as a model project, as it is an alternative to the practice of dumping dredge material in the Sound, Rock said.

Over the past two years, meetings were held with SWHMC in consideration of health and environmental aspects of the project in Hartford, Hammonasset and Stratford. These meetings included Dave Carey of the Connecticut Bureau of Aquaculture, Brian Thompson, director of the Land and Water Resources Division of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, representatives from the State Park Division, Milan Bull of the Connecticut Audubon Society, Joe Salvatore of the Connecticut Port Authority, state dredging program manager who provided oversight for the project, and Ed O’Donnell, chief of navigation for the Army Corps of Engineers.

The most recent planning session hosted by the SWHMC took place last week in Stratford. Its purpose was to coordinate safety efforts, as a precautionary move in the unlikely event of an incident. In attendance were members of the Stratford Police Marine Unit and Stratford Fire marine units, Stratford Public Safety, the CPA, Stratford Harbormaster, Brewer’s marina (staging area) and Cashman’s project manager, Aaron Barton.

The project will use three 80- to 95-foot tugboats, two dredgers close to 200 feet long, and two 250-foot barges. Dredging will begin within a week and will conclude in January or February 2018, Rock said, depending on conditions, and will be a round-the-clock operation. It will be done in four segments, beginning with the mouth of the river. As the sand is dredged it will be barged to Hammonasset, where it will be pumped onto the beach. This model project provides upland placement of clean dredge material as an alternative to the traditional practice of offshore disposal in Long Island Sound.

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