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Our view: State dredging plan gives hope to marinas and boaters, maybe

Our view: State dredging plan gives hope to marinas and boaters, maybe

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Boaters and boating-related businesses in the region got another rare bit of good news on dredging this month. They'd better knock on wood, preferably that of a boat.

The state Department of Environmental Protection said it may allow Somers Point to deepen the waters around its Higbee Avenue docks and deposit the dredge spoils on a beach at the nearby Malibu Beach Wildlife Management Area.

Although dredging onto beaches is done routinely to replenish them and build dunes on the ocean side of barrier islands, doing so in a back bay is rather rare. And it won't happen this time unless DEP tests of the dredged material find it has the right quality, chemical composition and sand-grain size.

In October, boating interests got an unqualified break when fisheries managers lifted the ban on dredging waterways and marinas in Atlantic and Cape May counties during the winter. That's the most convenient time, when boats are in dry dock. In that instance, Rutgers scientists saved the day with research showing the fish being protected by the ban isn't found in the counties.

Finding ways to get dredging done is important to the economy of the Jersey Shore. The state's 150,000 boat owners alone spend about $2 billion a year on the boating life. More visit from others states and spend, too.

With insufficient dredging - a common condition these days for recreational and commercial waterways - boaters need to time their movement to the tides and dodge shallows even in channels. A marina operator in Somers Point, for example, said boats in a couple of slips are stranded at low tide.

Keeping boating functional and satisfying is so important that nearby Ocean City decided to spend $2.7 million to have trucks haul away 50,000 cubic yards of dredge spoils. With nearly 10 times more dredging work needed, city officials no doubt envy the $1.5 million state grant and two National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grants their sister city is getting for its project.

The Somers Point plan would rebuild a beach frequently used for nesting by one of the state's most endangered bird species, the black skimmer.

Seven years ago, the state used materials dredged during the reconstruction of Route 152 to build up the same area.

Disposal of spoils in the modern era of environmental regulation has been the major impediment to dredging and made it much more costly when possible. Disposal can spread pollution that has settled to the bottom of a waterway over time.

For such reasons, the U.S. Clean Water Act requires an Army Corps of Engineers permit before putting dredged materials into a different part of the waters or on wetlands.

Still, it gets done sometimes, as when the federal Environmental Protection Agency designated two sites in Long Island Sound for disposal of 20 million cubic yards of dredge spoils from Connecticut harbors and marinas.

We hope the Somers Point experimental project proceeds as planned, and state and federal regulators keep finding ways to accommodate the dredging that boaters and the Jersey Shore economy need.

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