Army Corps to begin Swinomish Channel dredging Sept. 19

Published Sept. 18, 2012

SEATTLE – Dredging of the 11-mile Swinomish Navigation Channel will begin Sept. 19, making it safer for local boaters to navigate.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will oversee the marine safety and access improvement project, being performed by contractor American Construction Co. Inc., of Tacoma, Wash. 

The local company secured the job to dredge an estimated 215,000 cubic yards of channel sediment with a $1.9 million bid. Dredging is expected to be complete by mid-February.

First dredged more than a century ago, the channel silts in quickly and has been historically dredged every three to five years. But across the nation, fiscal constraints have slowed work on Corps projects with low commercial use.

“Recreational boaters rely on the channel for access to La Conner and local marinas, but commercial use is limited,” said John Pell, the Corps’ Seattle District project manager.

The channel’s usual commerce is log and barge towing, but it also provides access to the City of La Conner waterfront, a Swinomish tribal fish processing facility and several marinas. The last dredging took place in 2008 and recently boaters have been reporting shoaling. The U.S. Coast Guard has reported groundings and includes a regular warning about traversing the waterway in its Local Notice to Mariners.

“Last December, the Corps received some additional funding for maintaining small harbors around the country and we were able to add Swinomish Channel to the 2012 work plan,” said Pell, who’s been preparing for the project since 2010.

To prepare for any dredging project, Corps officials coordinate with state and federal agencies and local tribal governments to minimize harm to the aquatic ecosystem and assure full compliance with the federal Endangered Species Act. The Corps also helps mitigate the potential impacts of dredging and disposal operations by following U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated timing restrictions.

“Whenever possible, dredged material is beneficially used to restore, protect or create aquatic and wetland habitats,” said Dr. David Kendall, an aquatic biologist in the Seattle District’s Dredged Materials Management Office, which implements the interagency Dredged Material Management Program, or DMMP, in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Washington state departments of Ecology and Natural Resources.

These four agencies collaboratively work to manage and regulate disposal of dredged material from dredging projects in Washington state.

“We are finalizing with the EPA for them to use some of this material for a Superfund cleanup project they are working in Elliott Bay,” Kendall said. “The remaining material will be disposed of at a DMMP disposal site located in Rosario Strait.”

Bill Dowell

Release no. 12-029