MADISON >> The state has allocated almost $10.3 million in bonded funds for maintenance dredging that will deepen the lower end of the Housatonic River and nourish about a mile of the state’s largest beach in time for the 2018 summer season.

The project, slated to run October 2017 to March 2018, will allow for up to 300,000 cubic yards of sand to be removed from the bottom of the Housatonic, taken by barge 33 miles up the coast, and then pumped onto the western end of the Hammonasset Beach State Park, according to Jack Karalius, project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is overseeing the project.

The Connecticut Port Authority will hold a public hearing on the proposal 4-6 p.m. Nov. 16 at Middletown City Hall on DeKoven Drive.

The public may comment on state maritime policies and facilities, as well as maritime commerce and industry, according to a release from the agency.

The sand has been tested and is safe to use on the beach, however, some species will be harmed and some organisms will be destroyed by the project, experts say.

2ND PROJECT IN RIVER

This is the second dredging of the lower end of the Housatonic in less than five years, said Joseph Salvatore, dredging coordinator for the Connecticut Port Authority. He said 70,000 cubic yards of sand were dredged in 2013 and moved to Hammonasset, but the riverbed has filled again.

More than 1,000 commercial and recreational vessels are based in the Housatonic River and harbor, the corps said in a press release about the upcoming project. That number includes 15 commercial vessels.

The sand, a slurry sandy mixture when it first is placed on the beach, will be spread thin and is expected to dry out before the summer, Karalius said.

According to reports detailing the proposed work, the dredged channels will be an 18-foot deep, 200-foot wide channel from the mouth of the river to Culver’s Bar, and a 7-foot deep, 100-foot wide channel for 13 miles to Derby and Shelton.

The corps expects to be putting out contractor bids for the project in December, Karalius said.

NO FEDERAL FUNDS AVAILABLE

No federal funds were available for the project, though the maintenance will be done under the guidelines of the federal River and Harbor Act of 1930, according to the agreement signed by the corps and the state in May.

The state is expected to provide the $10.3 million for completion of the project, according to the agreement. If the corps were to request more money for the project, the state would have 30 days to comply, a copy of the document says.

State officials found the maintenance dredging project would be equally beneficial for the popular state park so agreed to sponsor the work, Salvatore said.

“It’s a win-win,” Salvatore said. “We don’t want to just put clean sand into the Long Island Sound.”

While the estimated cost is at more than $10 million, Salvatore said that once bids start coming in, the actual cost for the project will likely be lower. Bids for a current dredging project on the Mianus River came in about $800,000 under the original estimates, according to Salvatore.

The west end of Hammonasset Beach State Park has been eroding for many years, said Brian Thompson, director of land and water resources division at the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

Thompson said the erosion is due to the orientation of the beach relative to the coastal winds that push sand from the western end to the eastern end, which then ends up having a thicker layer of sand.

“At some point, we would reach an equilibrium and it would not erode,” Thompson said of the western end of the 2-mile beach. “But, for now, erosion will continue to take place.”

Thompson said the sand that will be dredged from the bottom of the Housatonic is fine- to medium-grain, which is good for a beach.

DEEP spokesman Dennis Schain said that nourishing the beach is important because Hammonasset is a popular park.

“We want to ensure it can continue to be a beach,” Schain said. “If this beach were out in the middle of nowhere, nature would take its course.”

SITUATION NOT DIRE

Renourishing the beach was not a dire or desperate situation, Schain added, but the need to dredge the Housatonic offered a good opportunity to add more sand to the eroding western edge with clean, good quality sand.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently approved a new dredge disposal site, immediately to the west of the current New London disposal site, according to a press release from the agency. The site will only be for materials found suitable and safe for open-water disposal, the release said.

“With today’s decision, (Administrator) Gina McCarthy and her team at the EPA continue to demonstrate their commitment to the health of Long Island Sound, as well as a sensitivity to the needs of the region,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said in a recent release.

“The simple fact is that given the nature of our coastline, periodic dredging is required to ensure the navigability of waters and continued access to ports and harbors. While we continually seek opportunities for beneficial reuse of dredged materials, this approach is not always available,” Malloy said.

Based on a copy of an environmental assessment completed in October by the corps for the Housatonic project, officials from the corps, the town of Stratford, DEEP, and the state park service agreed that the sand “was acceptable for placement on Hammonasset Beach State Park based on the 2007 data.”

NO Pcb’s; some organisms will be destroyed

According to the October environmental assessment, the 2007 study determined the sand at the base of the Housatonic River was suitable for beach use.

Karalius and Salvatore both said they believed the sand to be dredged was safe to use on a beach.

“We already tested the sand,” Karalius said. “It’s good, clean sand.”

If there were PCBs or other pollutants in the sand, “we wouldn’t even consider putting that on a beach,” Salvatore said. “There’s enough of a protocol.”

Salvatore added that there have been pollution concerns along the Housatonic, but they are farther upstream from the dredge site.

Other environmental factors considered included migratory fish and bird patterns. Salvatore said the project was designed to avoid the times in the fall when fish need to spawn in fresh water and when piping plovers will need nesting space on the beach in the late spring.

But, the environmental report noted some species will definitely be harmed by the dredging in the Housatonic, stating that organisms that live in the sand will be “destroyed by the dredging process.”

“However, once the dredging is completed the area would be recolonized in a short time by opportunistic species and by organisms living in adjacent areas and through seasonal recruitment,” the report said.

The state is sponsoring maintenance dredging on the Mianus River in Greenwich at a cost of about $2.2 million, Salvatore said. The dredging project began last month and is being completed by a Branford company.

In addition to the Housatonic dredging, the state will pay about $7.5 million next year for dredging in North Cove in Old Saybrook, according to Salvatore. That dredged material likely will be deposited in a central area of the Sound, he said.

Reach Anna Bisaro at 203-680-9915.