Long-awaited dredging project funded by federal infrastructure bill

Jan 23, 2022

The Wareham River is set to be dredged for the first time since 1953, thanks to funding secured at the federal level through the Nov. 2021 Infrastructure Bill. 

The Wareham Department of Natural Resources reported that the dredging of the river was funded as a navigational project. 

Expected funds will total nearly $5 million, according to the department. The area to be dredged extends from the Narrows Bridge down Wareham River — a federal channel that Harbormaster Garry Buckminster said has deteriorated significantly since it was first dredged in the 1950s.

The river used to be nine feet deep at low tide and up to 14 or 15 feet deep at high tide. Now, the river has become so congested with silt and organic material that it is only three-and-a-half feet deep in some places. 

The shallow waters are treacherous, especially for larger vessels. 

Buckminster said that in addition to improved conditions for recreational boaters, the dredging will improve water access to Tobey Hospital.

“It’s beneficial for the marinas, too,” Buckminster said. “They can navigate into the river much more safely.”

Buckminster added that the work will also make the docks at Besse Park more accessible, and will improve conditions at the marina currently in progress at Danny Warren’s property at the location of the old Greer Lumber. 

“We like to have people coming into the docks at Besse Park and being able to tie up and visit some of the local businesses,” Buckminster said. “It’s a win-win all around.”

Buckminster said that he has heard from residents asking if they can have some of the material once the river has been dredged, or whether it could be used on beaches. Unfortunately, he explained, the material is silt — a muddy, greasy mix with lots of organic material — which isn’t suitable for such uses. The material will be dumped at an appropriate off-shore site. 

The department will be working with the Army Corp of Engineers to evaluate the needed work, urgency and steps to complete the project, including permits and environmental considerations. 

Because the channel is mostly used by recreational boaters, it has been a lower priority for federal funding in the past, Buckminster said. But dredging the canal could open it to larger vessels. 

The Department reported that the project was buoyed by letters of support from waterway businesses, the Board of Selectmen, members of the board of Marine Resources and elected officials. 

The funds for the project are part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal passed in Nov. 2021. The legislation includes funds for projects to improve ports, roadways, railways, bridges and access to high-speed internet and clean water, among other funding priorities.

This story has been edited to correct errors.