Housatonic dredging project completed ahead of schedule

Dredging of the lower portion of the Housatonic River wrapped up almost a month ahead of schedule.

Good weather was a factor, according to Bill Rock, chairman of the Stratford Waterfront and Harbor Management Commission’s Dredging Committee. The lower Housatonic serves as Stratford’s Harbor.

The project resulted in the removal of nearly 300,000 cubic yards of sand from the Federal navigation channel downriver of the Washington Bridge. The dredged sand was then barged to Hammonasset state park for use as beach nourishment.

“We are pleased with the results of the project, which now provides the town with a safe navigational channel, at least 18 feet deep and 200 feet wide, from Goose Island to just beyond the mouth of the river,” Rock said in a press release. “Additionally we specified that the sides of the channel be slightly over dredged to allow for a natural sloping that helps reduce the amount of sand that normally refills the channel.”

The Stratford Waterfront and Harbor Management Commission, the local lead agency for the project, has been working in coordination with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to achieve dredging of the lower Housatonic for more than 20 years. These efforts produced phase I of the project in 2012 which removed about 53,000 cubic yards of sand that in turn were deposited just off Long Beach, providing a natural submerged berm to break wave action and diminish erosion. The Stratford commission began work on planning this year’s project, phase II, right after the first phase was completed.

“The last time the channel was dredged to these dimensions was in 1976,” Rock said. “At that time the Housatonic qualified for federal dredging funds because it was used to barge coal, then oil, to the Devon power plant. That need no longer exists.”

Therefore,Rock continued, “we needed to build a case to support, not only the benefits to current users of the river, but the long-term benefits for the developments like the Stratford Army Engine Plant’s potential water-dependent uses. Access to a deeper draft harbor adds another dimension to the attractiveness and value of the property … a real economic plus for the town.”

The project also serves as a model for other dredging programs by not only providing safe navigation, but also using the dredge material beneficially for beach nourishment, thereby avoiding disposal in Long Island Sound, Rock said.

“This is possible because the sand in the channel is free of contaminants,” according to a press release from the Stratford Waterfront and Harbor Management Commission. “Prior to the approval of the permit for the project the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the Army Corps of Engineers rigorously and extensively tested the sand. It was certified fit for beach nourishment. The Housatonic project was even cited as a positive alternative in a State of New York lawsuit against open water disposal in Long Island Sound.”

The Stratford Waterfront and Harbor Management Commission worked in coordination with the Connecticut Bureau of Aquaculture to protect the interests of the local shellfish industry, prior to the start of dredging. It also organized Stratford’s emergency response assets in the event of a mishap. None occurred during the two-month course of the project.

The Army Corps of Engineers’ dredging contractor, Cashman Marine and Dredging Company used a total of eight vessels to complete this project. This included a “hopper” dredge, “bucket” dredge, two barges, three tugboats and boat to pump the sand onto the beach, all working 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“We greatly appreciate the good work of the US ACOE, the CT Port Authority, and Bureau of Aquaculture and look forward to working with them again on future projects to improve Stratford’s waterways,” Stratford Waterfront and Harbor Management Commission Chairman ED Scinto said in a press release.

This is the largest state-funded dredging project in Connecticut’s history. The $10 million needed for the project was initially provided by the state Bond Commission and managed by the Connecticut Port Authority. The Army Corps of Engineers was the implementing agency. The project was requested by the Stratford Waterfront and Harbor Management Commission, which served as the local managing agency in coordination with the Army Corps of Engineers. Including the two phases of dredging, the volunteer Stratford commission has obtained almost $11 million of state and federal funds for navigation maintenance and improvement projects for Stratford, at no expense to the town, according to a press release.