Essex Dredging Coming Into Focus


Dredging in the Essex River has been a big issue for decades and in a meeting next week it looks like Essex town officials will get the first glimpse of the promise land when they meet with US Army Corps of Engineers on a refined plan that might be good to go.

Dredging removes sediment buildup of sand, silt and other debris from the bottom of a river or harbor to maintain or deepen channels, allowing boats to pass through safely.  Sometimes dredging is strategically used to support industry. 

Manchester Harbor, for instance, is a manmade harbor created for commerce by 1800s dredging that widened what was then “Jeffrey’s Creek.”   As a result, Manchester must maintain a regular dredging schedule to keep the profile of its commercial harbor.

Essex has a somewhat unique relationship to dredging. 

On one hand, the town hasn’t dredged the Essex River since 1992 and today, boaters often complain of large areas that have less than a foot of draft that makes navigation a challenge.  But on the other hand, the town has been a leader in innovative research exploring how to redistribute clean sediment from dredging into marshlands, one inch at a time, as a way to fortify the region’s coastline in the face of rising sea levels.  (The idea is done in other US regions but they aren’t allowed here under current state regulations,)

How to tackle the millions of dollars it takes to dredge has been the stumbling block.  This is because the town, up until now, has been ineligible to receive federal benefits from the US Army Corps of Engineers.

That’s changed, after a lot of work. 

First, Essex began in 2014 the process of recharting the required “encroachment free channel,” which required years of work and an approval by the US Congress.  But now the issue is making the money work.  The Corps put out a bid for the project earlier this year, but the only bid came in significantly over the Corps’ budget. 

Last month’s visit to the Essex River by US Rep. Seth Moulton came on the tail of another $1 million in funding.  That, along with a narrowed scope for the overall project, is expected to do the trick.

Next week’s meeting will bring in Essex’s three private marinas (Pike Marine, Perkins Marine, and Essex Marina) with the US Army Corps and other federal representatives, engineers, and town officials to confirm whether the permitting window might be extended long enough to allow dredging in private areas after the work is done.  The marinas are hoping—on their dime—to piggyback onto the project for their own dredging needs.

Stay tuned on the outcome of that meeting.