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Currituck Returns to Clear Westbrook, Clinton Harbors

For two consecutive years, the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) has approved deployment of the Currituck dredge to clear the entrances to Clinton and Westbrook harbors of the humps and bumps that can ground boats at low tide. Last week, the Currituck arrived for this year's first of two deployments in Westbrook's harbor entrance channel to remove 15,000 cubic yards of sandy bottom materials. From Westbrook, the dredge moves on to Clinton Harbor, where it is slated to remove 10,000 cubic yards of material. The sandy material removed from the two channels will be transported in the Currituck to an area offshore of Hammonasset Beach State Park, where it will be used for beach replenishment.

While the Currituck's work is critical to ensure boats don't run aground this summer in the harbor entrance channels, grounding dangers remain in the harbors and inner channels. The two harbors keep getting shallower as sediment accumulates there, making it difficult for larger boats both to navigate and moor there.

It has been 27 years since the last full harbor dredging project in Westbrook's Patchogue River harbor channel. Increasing sediment deposits have cut harbor channel depth in some places to as little as five feet at low tide. A small project in 1997 removed the most problematic shoals in the harbor and several emergency dredging projects in the past four years helped to clear the harbor entrance channel of the worst shoaling.

All of the permits to clear the Westbrook harbor channel from the gas docks to the Route 1 Singing Bridge are secured, but ACE estimates dredging the entire channel will cost about $1.6 million and sufficient funding has been unavailable so the bigger need-clearing the harbor channel to federal design depth and width-has remained unmet.

Last week, though, there was finally hope. U.S. Congressman Joe Courtney and State Senator Eileen Daily finally offered town leaders and marina owners funding sources that together should be enough to support a full harbor dredging.

The first puzzle piece was to secure agreement from Old Saybrook to release and re-program to the Westbrook/Clinton project the $690,000 remaining unspent in the ACE North Cove dredging account. Both Old Saybrook First Selectman Michael Pace and Ray Collins, chairman of the town's Harbor Management Commission, agreed.

"I'm happy to give to Clinton and Westbrook-they're our neighbors. We [in turn] gave our clean dredging materials to Norwalk harbor when they needed them and then also agreed to delay our project a year-then the next year, Norwalk [in return] helped us," said Pace.

The second puzzle piece was supplied by legislators Daily and State Representative Jim Crawford: state legislation to provide $750,000 in bonding to support the Clinton/Westbrook dredging project. The legislation passed in this session and the associated bonding resolution was to be voted on by the state Bonding Commission last Friday.

For ACE to write the bid specifications, bid the dredging project, award a contract, and manage the work, all of the funding must be in place within its control. To allow the state funding to apply to the Westbrook/Clinton project requires the state and ACE to enter into a legal agreement called a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). A similar MOU was executed between the state and ACE for the Norwalk Harbor dredging project when the state provided funding to supplement federal dredging funds.

ACE's Jack Karalius said that the steps in executing an MOU could delay the dredging project's bidding to late 2011 or early 2012. That's because the ACE won't release a project for bidding until funding for all of the work is in place so, if an MOU is needed, the harbor channel and harbor dredging projects probably wouldn't occur until 2012.

Karalius is also working with other towns in the New England District to release surplus dredging project funds in Rhode Island towns that could be re-programmed to Westbrook and Clinton.

"We're trying to get about $1 million in funding," said Karalius.

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