(July 13, 2018) Responding to concerns from area fishermen about impacts on marine habitats from Ocean City beach replenishment dredging projects, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers held a public meeting at the White Marlin Club in West Ocean City Tuesday evening.
Chris Spaur, Army Corps engineer, told the assembled anglers their feedback was needed about potential shoaling from future dredging operations impacting fishing local spots.
“Ocean City is an engineered beach and needs sand to be maintained,” he said. “The amount of sand needed to keep Ocean City going is pretty big.”
Spaur said since 1990 more than 12 million cubic yards of sand have been dredged from ocean shoals, with the next round of large scale beach replenishment scheduled for 2022.
“We need to get sand and still maintain seafloor habitats,” he said.
The Army Corps works with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on the coastal storm damage reduction projects, which add about 900,000 cubic yards of sand every four years.
“Since 1990, we’ve been taking sand from shoals in state waters within three miles from shore,” he said. “Those sands, at least from a supply perspective, are basically exhausted.”
Since identifying previous sand sources as insufficient last year, Spaur said the Army Corps is now proposing tapping offshore shoals in federal waters.
“We need BOEM permission to take sands because they are stewards of the continental shelf,” he said.
To begin the process, Spaur said an updated borrow plan and environmental impact statement, which were last completed in 2008, would both be required.
“That  EIS supported dredging from federal waters but we have not actually dredged in federal waters since 10 years of that passage,” he said.
The decade of inaction voids previous federal clearance, with compliance regulations being updated in the interim, Spaur said.
“The rules have gotten thicker, heaver and more detailed,” he said. “There was maybe less concern [previously] about the impacts than there is now.”
The Army Corps gave public notice in April about a draft environmental assessment, which is being written and should be published for public comment this winter before being finalized in January.
First steps for the next project involve identifying and screening candidate shoals.
“We’ve identified eight offshore shoals between 3-11 miles,” he said. “The amounts of sand out there is mind boggling.”
The target areas hold more than 750 million cubic yards of sand, with roughly 413 million deemed beach quality.
Starting with the next dredge, which is authorized to start as late as 2024, Spaur said about 5.2 million cubic yards of sand would be required by 2044, which averages to about 870,000 cubic yards every four years.
“Severe storms could push that number to 12.3 million,” he said.
The candidate list has been narrowed to a pair of shoals, Weaver and Isle of Wight, which should provide adequate sand, Spaur said.
“Isle of Wight and Weaver’s advantage is proximity to the project,” “We will try to keep total moved from any shoal to less than 5 percent.”
Fisherman Colin Campbell asked if the impact of dredging within a radius of a few miles would be examined.
“Is there any dead zone area we can expect to see [or] muddying up the water?” he said.
Army Corps project manager Justin Callahan, while noting federal waters tend to be less muddy, said ocean shoals are dynamic and move through natural processes over time.
“It’s hard to tell where we actually dredge,” he said. “There were impacts but the shoals maintained.”
Estimating the inlet traps about 190,000 cubic yards of sand annually, Callahan said after a quarter century of involvement with Ocean City and Assateague beach replenishment projects, the core question remains unanswered.
“I’ve been pushing hard for years to do a comprehensive study,” he said. “We’ve got the magnitude of the problem down, but I can’t tell exactly where the sand’s going.”
Shifting focus to recurring shoaling problems at the Ocean City Inlet, Army Corps program Manager Tony Clark said a long-term management solution is being developed in conjunction with the state Department of Natural Resources.
“We’re never going to stop the problem, but we think we can manage the shoaling from impacting every 2-3 months,” he said.
“What we’re trying to do is get some type of natural structure or elements to extend that dredging cycle to years,” he added.
The new study to improve navigation is in the formation stages and still requires approval, Clark said.
“We’re trying to set this up to look at everything, not just the bad spots,” he said.
Email questions to Spaur at Christopher.email@example.com