Nanticoke dredging project is needed to deepen channel

By Lynn R. Parks

For two years, the county and the Army Corps of Engineers have been looking for land on which to deposit spoils from dredging the Nanticoke River. So far, no land has been located and the river is still only 8 feet deep in some areas, making it difficult for fully-loaded barges to make their way to Seaford. And that, said Paula Gunson, director of the Greater Seaford Chamber of Commerce, is affecting a prime transportation route for western Sussex County. She and county councilman Dale Dukes want to get government officials and businesses that use the river involved in finding a site for the spoils. “We need to get the people who use the river together, to see if they can find where land can be obtained,” Dukes said. In 2004, more than 1.38 million tons of petroleum products, grains and aggregates such as stone and sand traveled the river. There were 575 barge trips, up from 293 barges carrying 770,000 tons of cargo in 2002. And river traffic is expected to increase, Gunson said. Cargo on the river this year is expected to reach nearly 1.5 million tons. As the river banks silt into the water and river depths decrease, barges drafts are increasingly shallow. That means that barges cannot be fully loaded, increasing the number of trips they have to make along the river. Jim Matters, president of Langenfelder Marine Inc., Stevensville, Md., and vice president of transportation issues with the Delmarva Water Transport Committee, said in November that his barge loads going up the Nanticoke had shrunk from 10 to 15 percent in the last four to five years. “In the last two to three years, we have really started to notice it,” he added. If companies can’t use fully-loaded barges, “transportation costs go up,” Matters added. Increased transportation costs mean increases in the cost of the products being carried, especially as fuel prices increase.
“The consumer is the guy at the end of the line,” Matters said. “At the end of the day, that money is going to come out of consumers’ pockets somehow.” Bob Blama, project manager with the Army Corps of Engineers office in Baltimore, said that the dredging project is on hold until land is found for the spoils. The last time the Nanticoke was dredged, in 1990, the procedure generated 35,000 cubic yards of spoils, Blama said. The material, a mixture of about 80 percent water and 20 percent silt, was pumped onto the site of what is now the Invista nylon plant, on land owned by the DuPont Company. The water seeped back into the river, leaving the silt behind. But now, the state has said that dredge material cannot be dumped onto the DuPont property. Environmental scientists are concerned that the water leaching process could carry with it into the river contaminants that are in fly ash that the DuPont Company has deposited on its land, Blama said. Gunson said that the county is looking for about 50 acres that could be a permanent spoils site. The spoils, largely topsoil that has washed into the river, can be spread on fields and, once dry, tilled and planted, Blama said. The topsoil could also be packaged and sold, Gunson said. The corps tests the spoils for heavy metals and other chemical contaminants which, if present, could prevent it from being used to grow certain crops. But Blama said that the Nanticoke is “fairly clean” of contaminants. “That should not be a problem,” he added. Blama said that the county was also discussing contacting the state of Maryland, to arrange to use the spoils in constructing wetlands along the Marshy Hope Creek. The Seaford chamber hopes to hold a meeting in June with businesses that use the river and government officials, Gunson said.

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