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Restoring navigability in Murderkill River is reason for emergency dredging project

The Murderkill River, where it meets the Delaware Bay at Bowers.
The Murderkill River, where it meets the Delaware Bay at Bowers.

An emergency dredging project to restore navigability in the Murderkill River begins next week.

DNREC announced the project earlier this week, and the dredging will remove about 52,000 cubic yards of sediment from the river’s navigational channel.

DNREC will then use the dredged sand to nourish up to 1,000 feet of eroding shoreline at South Bowers Beach.

Earlier this year DNREC removed sand from the Murderkill Inlet’s navigation channel.

DNREC Shoreline and Waterway Management Section administrator Jesse Hayden explains the difference between the two projects.

"Earlier this year our DNREC team used a piece of heavy equipment to remove some sand from the channel. That was a long reach excavator, but we can only reach so much. This project will bring a hydraulic dredge which will complete the job from the water,” said Hayden. “The channel is about a mile long, our equipment could only reach about 60 feet out so this dredge is important to improve the navigability through the entire channel."

Funding for the $2.3 million project comes from DNREC appropriations in the fiscal year 2022 and 2023 Bond bills.

The river is a federally-authorized navigation project that requires periodic dredging to maintain safety and navigable access, and it’s a popular boating area.

Despite that, Hayden doesn’t see any safety issues for the contractor or others boating in the river during the project.

"Dredging contractors like this are accustomed to working in high traffic channels like the Murderkill, and the US Coast guard will usually publish a local notice to mariners to alert people of the hazard," said Hayden.

According to Bowers Beach Mayor Ada Puzzo, this work is vital to the area.

"And without that Murderkill it'll just be our death sentence. So we need that Murderkill dredge. We still have commercial fishing boats, and that's how they make their money. They are local guys that's how they make their money they need to get in and out of that channel," said Puzzo. "We have a single head boat left which is sad we lost most of them because of the difficulty going in and out of that channel. So we need that channel. It's our livelihood. We need it."

Puzzo and the town fought to get the dredging approved at the Murderkill River. She praised local legislators including some from New Castle County to help with the project. She also said Sen. Tom Carper had a big hand with getting the project approved.

In the end, she feels more work will need to be done.

"The way that the sand shifts in the bay we're going to get it dredged sometime in August, it's going to work and be great, but it's going to come right back in. So no this is not the final solution. We need to be back on the Army Corps schedule for the Army Corps dredging it more regularly and not have a crisis," said Puzzo.

The dredging will be done by Cottrell Contracting Corporation of Chesapeake, VA, and if no issues arise, the project should be completed by the end of August.

Joe brings over 20 years of experience in news and radio to Delaware Public Media and the All Things Considered host position. He joined DPM in November 2019 as a reporter and fill-in ATC host after six years as a reporter and anchor at commercial radio stations in New Castle and Sussex Counties.