According to the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), The United States is the world’s leading maritime and trading nation for major bulk commodities such as grain, coal, and petroleum and this trade is essential for maintaining economic competitiveness and national security.
The inland waterway system carries one-sixth of the Nation’s volume of intercity cargo. On the coasts, Great Lakes, and inland waterways, the importance of maintaining channel depths and shallow draft harbor projects is underscored by the estimate that nearly 25 percent of the nation’s economic activity depends on foreign trade handled by these ports. Maritime transportation additionally provides critical national defense value by supporting the mobilization and sustainability of America’s military. Whether for public defense, infrastructure, or transport, import and export dollars spent at Americans ports multiply exponentially when considering GDP.
To maintain this status, federal and private entities must constantly maintain navigable inland waterways and develop shoreline facilities. Here, dredging comes into play to excavate sediments and dispose of them in a different location. It’s not as simple as renting a piece of equipment and digging away. One must also consider permitting, dredge material placement, environmental sampling, ecological and cultural impacts, regulatory reporting, and the time and effort required.
Below are some basic topics to consider ensuring proper project scope and setup.
Define the Area to Be Dredged
Perhaps you are looking to develop a new dock for product receipt and transfer. Is it all current waterway, or does it contain portions of upland? You’ll need to define the final depth and obtain a current bathometric survey of the area and ensure no major submerged obstacles are in the way.
Current Status of the Land or Waterway
This includes ownership and jurisdiction, current and past uses of the area. A Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA), cultural study, ecological assessment, wetlands delineation, and pedestrian survey may be required during the permitting process. If recognized environmental concerns (RECs), wetlands, or cultural sites are present, this would impact project feasibility, timeline, and cost.
Permits to Remove and Place Materials: USACE Clean Water Act Section 404 and the Rivers and Harbors Act Section 10
Different permits exist depending on the type of dredging you will be performing. If there are pre-issued permits from dredging, you want to ensure the timing of this permitting lines up with your project needs.
Dredge Material Placement
Dredge material placement, which is usually done in Dredge Material Placement Areas (DMPAs) in Upland Confined Facilities (UCFs) or Offshore areas. Typically, there is very little space to place dredge materials. The federal government maintains several placement areas, but those may be full or may not be located close to your project site. Additionally, federal and private entities will likely require some form of planning, sampling, and reporting of the material you plan to place in their facility. Fees, timing, and permitting must also be considered.
The chemical composition of dredged material in relation to different ecological and human health standards also plays a large role in the ability to discharge sediment and water. The potential to “open water discharge” sediment is by far the most appealing and efficient discharge options. Not surprisingly, it has the most restrictive standards for analytical comparison. Open water discharge is not a viable option in most places and for most projects. Placement into DMPAs or UCFs is usually less restrictive from an analytical and standard perspective, but usually requires more controls for deposition. Lastly, in situations where chemical constituents may be present at levels that exceed human health standards, some form of controlled disposal into a regulated landfill maybe be required. It is also possible to reuse the materials for other projects, depending on the results of geotechnical investigations and the risk tolerance of the user.
If you keep some of these considerations in mind before you commence your dredging project, there will be nothing to dread!
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