Officials digging for funds to dredge Wareham River

Aug 16, 2017

Town officials are seeking funds to dredge the Wareham River’s federal navigation channel, which would deepen it and make it safer for recreational boaters. The problem? A slew of cities and towns across the South Coast and Cape Cod want to do the same, and there’s not enough money for everyone.

“Unfortunately, state and federal government officials are looking at channels with a lot of cargo and fishing boat traffic,” said Harbormaster Garry Buckminster. “Because we don’t have cruise ships and things of that nature, getting funds is a bit of a wrestling match.”

Earlier this month, members of the town’s Marine Resources Commission learned Wareham’s issue is one shared by many at an informational session in Plymouth.

The session, dubbed “Dredging Listening Session - South Shore,” featured Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Jay Ash. Several state lawmakers, approximately 20 harbormasters and three Wareham representatives – Selectman Alan Slavin, Marine Resources Commission Chair Don Jepson and commission member Larry Bearse – attended.

Dredging would bring many benefits, both economic and safety related, said Buckminster and Jepson.

A deeper channel reduces the risk of boats running aground and would open it up to larger vessels, possibly improving the town’s ability to attract tourists.

“It would reinvigorate the channel and allow for more commercial activity,” said Jepson. “We all know in a seaside community public access to the water has a successful impact.”

The federal channel is approximately 1 mile long, 125 feet wide and runs from near Parkwood Beach to the Narrows. Created in 1897 by the federal government, the channel was last dredged in the 1950s.

Buckminster said another dredging is overdue.

“Right now, it’s less than 4 feet deep in some places,” he said. “Larger vessels have to play the tides and have to be cautious to keep from running aground.”

Jepson said commissioners have alerted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to the problem in a letter that Selectmen unanimously supported in January of this year.

Jepson noted that in 2012 the Corps surveyed the Wareham River, but hasn’t had funding to perform the necessary dredging. At the information session, Bearse spoke about the federal government’s duty to maintain the channel.

At the session, Jepson said city and town officials estimated the cost to dredge channels across the South Coast ranged from $100 million to $500 million.

In Gov. Charlie Baker’s state budget draft, only $4 million is allocated for dredging projects.

Additionally, Jepson noted that Ash said the Baker administration has said that the previous 75-25 breakdown of dredging costs, shared between the state and municipalities, is likely to become a 50-50 split.

Jepson said that would put a heavy burden on the town’s budget.

“We desperately need all players to buy into the project and reach out to get our local representatives involved in the political process,” said Jepson about seeking potential funds.

For now, however, Jepson said officials will wait for word from the state and federal government on the long-deferred dredging.

In the meantime, boaters will have to use an abundance of caution in the channel.

“Having the channel under 4 feet is horrible for outboard vessels,” said Buckminster.