Absecon Bay is getting its first makeover in about 20 years.
For more than two months, the state Department of Transportation has been dredging the bay with the goal of making the waterways safer and more navigable for boaters, fishers and recreational watercraft users.
Absecon Mayor Kimberly Horton said she was “so happy” when she finally got the DOT phone call after multiple pleas to make the area safer.
“Dredging this area was very important. We want to make it safe for our boaters. I was asking our residents to please be tolerant and understanding and flexible,” Horton said.
The dredging is part of a $6.3 million project to restore the channel that was severely damaged by storms, most notably Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
Large amounts of sediment had settled in the channel, making it unsafe for boats of all sizes in all tides in the two decades since the bay had last been dredged, and Sandy made things worse, according to the DOT.
Horton saw firsthand how unnavigable the waters were when she went out on a boat a year or two ago, she said, with a fisherman she has been corresponding with and with former Mayor John Armstrong.
“I was calling anybody I could to please put us on a priority list. It was great when we heard this project was going to be started,” Horton said.
Sevenson Environmental Services, the DOT’s contractor, has been working since May 11, placing pipeline, both submerged and floating, in and near the channel. The dredging has been underway since July 17, running 12 hours a day from Monday through Saturday each week.
The DOT released video on its Facebook page at the beginning of the dredging that described the process.
DOT project manager Scott Douglas said they are using a device called a hydraulic cutter-head pipeline dredge, which is a giant pumping system with a cutter that agitates the sediment, stirs it up and then pumps it about 30,000 feet through 12-inch pipe, aided by five booster pumps at the Gateway Dredged Material Management Facility on the marsh in Pleasantville, just north of the Atlantic City Expressway.
A project to dredge Absecon Creek has begun, the state Department of Environmental Protectio…
At that facility, the sediment is pumped into geotextile bags. When full, the bags are about 200 feet long, 35 feet wide and 8 feet high. They plan to fill 40 to 45 of those bags.
“Think of them as giant filter socks made out of plastic mesh, and they’re designed to let the water out while holding the sediment in the bag,” Douglas said.
The area being dredged covers a little more than a mile, Douglas said. As of Sept. 1, they had completed 14,000 cubic yards of the planned 71,000 cubic yards of sediment they plan to remove. The goal is to get the channel to a depth of 6 feet at low tide.
Genevieve Clifton, manager of maritime resources at the DOT, said in the Facebook video last month that low visibility in the water affects not just recreational watercraft operators but commercial vessels, including maintenance vessels coming in to work on the region’s new wind port facilities.
“If you envision a channel that should be deep, and if you can envision it filled with sediment that people can’t see, that’s an impediment to them being able to boat, it’s an impediment to safety and it’s an impediment to the economy for maintaining our channels,” Clifton said in the video. “Businesses are open, marinas are open and thriving thanks to this program. That’s something that’s really important to the department in terms of maintaining our marine transportation system.”
Boaters can continue to use the waterways while the dredging is taking place. Douglas said boaters have been very understanding of any delays while the project is operating.
“They’re courteous and pass at slow speeds, and that’s good. That keeps everybody safe,” he said.
The DOT will return within two to three years to conduct a survey on the channel, sooner if it receives complaints about visibility or depth.
How long it will be until the next time the channel needs to be dredged isn’t known, Douglas said.
“Typical rate is every five years,” Douglas said. “I wouldn’t have to expect to come back for at least five years. It could be longer than that.”
Horton expects to continue selling boat ramps and seeing boaters navigate the waterways on a daily basis. She expects fishers will be the happiest once the project is complete.
For now, it’s all about a little more patience.
“This is their livelihood,” she said. “It’s a little bit of an inconvenience, but they know this is something that needs to be done. They don’t mind the inconvenience. They know it will benefit us in the future.”
Douglas said the project will be done by the end of the year, but the goal is to have it finished as early as Thanksgiving.
Contact John Russo: 609-272-7184