Fairfield looking to dredge channel next winter
FAIRFIELD — The last time the South Benson Marina Channel was dredged was in 2013, a year after Superstorm Sandy hit.
But that was an isolated section at the pinch point across from St. Mary’s in Bridgeport, according to Public Works Director Joe Michelangelo, and for some boat owners, it’s time for the channel to be dredged again.
“Big sailboats can run aground here,” Mike Herrington, a boat owner and Fairfield resident, said on a late November tour of the marina. “At low tide, if a boat comes in and there’s not that much current, you can run aground, stop dead, and the only way out is to back up and a sailboat can’t do that.”
Doug Chavenello, a fellow boat owner, agreed.
“We’re very lucky there hasn’t been anything,” said Chavenello, a former fire chief. “The whole issue is that the town wants more money without putting it back into the marina.”
Town officials at a Marina Sub-Committee meeting Tuesday gave an update on the channel dredging. If the application process ran smoothly, dredge work would begin by next winter.
“The marina needs to be dredged from time to time, it’s something that happens regularly,” Parks and Recreation Chairman Scott Walker said prior to the meeting. “It was dredged in 2013 the last time and that’s really weather-dependent.”
Walker said one of the reasons it was not done sooner was because of the 2017 spending freeze that affected local government capital expenditures.
“We looked at 2018 and there was a problem with the permits for this year, so that work is getting postponed until next winter,” Walker said. “It takes time to get approvals in place and go through the agencies.”
Permit applications to changes made at the marina must go through the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection as the channel is part of Long Island Sound and under state jurisdiction.
Michelangelo said he was confident about the process going forward and into next year.
“DEEP has indicated to us through pre-application correspondence and submittals that the work is eligible for approval under the Certificate of Permission process,” the DPW director said. “This is a much simpler process than a full structures, dredging and fill application which is more involved.”
Michelangelo said funding for the channel dredging is in place, part of a $700,000 capital appropriation made last year.
“The Army Corps of Engineers’ position on this is that it is eligible under their CT General Permit, so we don’t have to go through their individual permit process,” Michelangelo added.
He said the town understood the boaters’ concerns.
“The width of the channel bottom to be excavated is 100 feet wide,” Michelangelo said Wednesday morning. “The channel depth is set to allow a boat with a six-foot beam — basically our largest sailboats in the marina — to pass at a normal low tide.”
Walker invited those with questions to attend future meetings of the Parks and Recreation Commission — next one set for Dec. 19 — and the Marina Sub-Committee.
“I know the process is ongoing and it’s not being ignored,” the Parks & Rec. chairman said.