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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

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Emergency Dredging of Pennsylvania Harbor on Tap

Avalon Logo - USE THIS ONE
Avalon Logo – USE THIS ONE

By Vince Conti

AVALON – For the second time in two years, Avalon is preparing to do an emergency dredging of portions of Pennsylvania Harbor, which are presenting serious problems for navigation.  

The hope is that the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will respond favorably and quickly to the borough’s application for an emergency permit.  

Borough Engineer Thomas Thornton said the goal is “to clean this up as quickly as we can with summer approaching.” 

Why the problem manifests itself so quickly after the last dredging was completed is still a bit of a mystery. One possible culprit is an island within the tax boundary of Middle Township that has significantly shrunk in the last few years. A possibility, but by no means a certainty, is that the island is eroding in such a way that debris is settling in the channel or that the dynamics of the island’s changes are contributing to altered flow and to the rapidly reappearing hazard. 

With the dredging on an expedited schedule, the borough hopes to have bid specifications in a week, bids in hand by June 16, and a possible award made by the June 28 council meeting.  

With a week to issue a notice to proceed, the scheduled work could be completed in August. The schedule depends on the state agreeing to the emergency permit, which Thornton said he expects will be forthcoming in a timely fashion. He did caution, “We do not yet have it in hand.” 

With an emergency permit, Thornton reminded borough council that all the usual work that goes into securing a regular permit still needs to be done but it is allowed to follow behind the issued emergency permit. 

Dr. Lenore Tedesco also spoke to the issue, noting that the frequent need for dredging in the harbor could represent a future opportunity for beneficial use of the dredge materials.  

She referenced the Seven Mile Island Innovation Lab efforts to locate areas where appropriate dredge materials could be used to build up the wetlands. 

The Innovation Lab is the result of a collaboration of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the state, The Wetland’s Institute, where Tedesco is executive director, and the Army Corps Engineer Research and Development Center. Its goal is to develop innovative approaches to marsh restoration. 

The marshes represent critical habitat for several species and serve as support for resilience for the barrier island communities.  

In a statement on the Army Corps’ website, Tedesco says, “Sediment is the currency of these ecosystems, and we know these marshes are sediment starved, so we must work to find innovative ways to utilize the clean sediments that clog navigation channels to enhance marshes and offset sea level rise.” 

Tedesco urged the borough to plan for beneficial use projects for dredge materials in the future since sediment buildup “seems to be happening on a two-year cycle.”  

She and Thornton acknowledged that the expedited schedule for the current emergency dredging would not allow beneficial use opportunities this time.  

In order for the bidding process to proceed quickly, it will be necessary for the borough to declare an actual emergency in the harbor. That is expected to be on the council’s agenda for the next meeting, June 14.  

Contact the author, Vince Conti, at vconti@cmcherald.com. 

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