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WESTBROOK/CLINTON - Clearing harbor channels to design depth and width is good for business-that was the message conveyed by five businessmen who spoke at an event organized by Congressman Joe Courtney and town officials at Westbrook's Brewer Pilots Point Marina last week. The goal of the event was to highlight the value to business of the completed harbor dredging projects, while also speaking to the need to create a more stable federal funding mechanism for harbor maintenance dredging
Courtney stressed the importance of keeping the harbor dredged to both the economic health of local marinas and to that of the local businesses that depend upon them.
"There is no question of the economic impact and value of this marina to the local economy," said Courtney. "There's also a multiplier effect because of the other local businesses that would be impacted by a loss of business at the marina."
Despite the recognition of the importance of keeping harbors and channels dredged to design depth and width, Congress and the federal government have failed to provide sufficient funding to meet the need.
"Nationally, the issue of harbor maintenance dredging is a critical problem because of a chronic shortfall in Army Corps of Engineers funding," said Courtney.
The solution? One answer could be the RAMP Act co-sponsored by Democrat Courtney and Congressman Joe Boustany, the bill's lead co-sponsor for the Republicans. The RAMP act provisions, with 190 co-sponsors and bi-partisan support, were included in the federal Transportation re-authorization bill now being debated in a Congressional conference committee.
If passed and signed, the RAMP act would stop a federal practice that currently starves the federal Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF). Each year, the federal government diverts about one-half of the fee revenue collected from foreign vessels and to fund general government operations rather than harbor and channel maintenance.
Courtney and other Congressman believe that since the fees collected from foreign vessels for the fund are for harbor maintenance, that's how they should be used.
The RAMP bill provisions, if included in the final transportation bill, would require that all fees paid by foreign flag vessels are deposited in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and used for harbor and channel maintenance.
Westbrook and its elected federal representatives struggled for years to get enough federal funding to support the $1.2 million dredging project of the Patchogue River harbor channel. The 2012 Westbrook harbor dredging was funded finally by a state grant of $750,000 plus an allocation of federal funds left unspent in the North Cove dredging project.
Several times in the years prior to this harbor channel project, Courtney's support helped bring the Army Corps of Engineers's Currituck dredge to Clinton and Westbrook to provide the stop-gap measure of clearing the harbor entrance channels of shoaling.
First Selectman Noel Bishop said of this year's project, "This harbor dredging is the result of teamwork by many volunteers and elected officials working together to accomplish a key initiative in a bi-partisan way. This is the single most important initiative we've worked on as a community in the past five years."
Coastline Consulting of Madison completed the Patchogue River harbor channel clearing last month. The firm's winning bid to the Army Corps of Engineers was for $842,153.
The last time the inner Westbrook harbor channel was cleared was more than 14 years ago.