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Work to begin soon on marina-channel dredging project

Deeper channel to benefit security, recreation around MacDill

by Nick Stubbs
Thunderbolt staff writer

Getting the OK to take even a few scoops of sand from the bottom of Tampa Bay is a long and arduous environmental approval process wrought with red tape, but MacDill finally got the green light for a dredging project expected to result in better base security and greater opportunities for recreational boaters.

The project, which has passed all but a minor hurdle in permitting by the state, involves removing tons of sand from the boat channel leading into Tampa Bay from the marina at the south end of the base.

Shallow and hazardous at low tide, the channel is difficult to navigate during low-water periods, and the problem has gotten worse as tidal action and current have conspired to fill in the channel. An active 2004 hurricane season didn't help, as high winds and wave activity washed even more sand and sediment into what gradually has become more of a minor depression than a defined channel.

Used heavily by 6th Security Forces Squadron marine officers, a deeper channel will allow them to come and go with less concern for striking bottom on low tides, particularly with the larger center-console boat used on some patrols.

"This is a Security Forces project," said Scott Davis, engineering flight chief with the 6th Civil Engineer Squadron. "It will benefit recreational boaters as well but the primary concern has been security and allowing access for Security Forces."

Mr. Davis said all permits have been approved, but while work was scheduled to have started in February, the project is on hold pending approval of a minor permit modification resulting from an oversight by a state inspector. The contractor for the job also is a factor in the delay, as resources for the dredging remain tied up on another project.

Mr. Davis said he expects both issues to be resolved shortly and work should begin within 30 days. The project is expected to take about five months, with the actual time spent dredging to be around three months. He said boat traffic will not be impaired during the work. Rather than a traditional bucket dredge, the channel will be deepened by a huge suction hose that will vacuum up the sand and deposit it in a decamp pond behind building 60 just off Coons Creek. The water in the pond is contained until it drains and evaporates, leaving a pile of sediment that may eventually be used for fill and construction material on other base projects.

The channel has an average depth at mean low tide of three to five feet now but will be about eight feet its entire length after the work - more than enough for larger boats to come and go on even winter full-moon low tides, which often fall below the mean low water mark.

In addition to the work on the primary channel, the project will include dredging the channel leading from Coons Creek, where sailboats with deep keels and other watercraft with large drafts often experience difficulty getting from the basin the channel on very low tides.




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