Relocation of Dredged Material Continues to Plague Marina Operations

Dredging and the relocation of dredge material is an issue for many in the recreational boating industry. After all, water depth is a fundamental requirement for boating, in-water or upland boat storage. Unfortunately, in many parts of the world, ensuring proper navigation depths for boats is increasingly a challenge with the combined opposition forces of Mother Nature and the regulatory bureaucracy.

To be fair, Mother Nature for the most part is simply up to her usual tricks. Are we left to accept her increasingly frequent temper tantrums and severe weather events that can wreak havoc on bottom profiles?
There are few other topics that can conjure up as much emotion, controversy and polarization as dredging, and particularly what to do with the dredged sediment.

Of course, it does not serve the industry well to refer to “dumping of dredge spoils.” Language is important, and unfortunately, there is a long history of using the terms dumping and spoils. More correctly stated, we should all be using terms like relocating dredged material or relocating existing bottom sediment.

In most cases, the greatest concerns center around potential contaminants within the sediment. So regulatory agencies keep tightening the rules for testing the material to determine its contents. As detection technology has improved, the degree of testing required has increased and the allowable levels of contaminants to be considered “clean” have been decreased. In many cases, where material was considered clean 20 years ago, today, with the same basic tests, the material is considered “of concern,” even though the raw data would indicate that the materials today are cleaner than 20 year ago.

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Politicians often fuel the fires of controversy by oversimplifying things (usually for political gain) by saying things like, “no one should be dumping toxic waste into our waters.” Not only is this a gross misstatement of the facts, but it serves only to create further controversy and divide the public. Recreational boating is dependent upon clean water and adequate water depths for navigation.

The shallowing of the waters for recreational boating is in the nearshore harbors and coastlines (rivers, lakes, tidal waters). It is also the area that is most subject to disruption in major episodic storms and heavy rain storms that stir up the bottom sediment and disperse it throughout the near shore areas.

It is also the same area where we swim, fish and recreate.
So by not dredging, this can further hurt the environment in near shore areas, as well as the use of beaches and fishing. (Just think of what appears in public beaches after a heavy rain – most beaches are closed.

In many areas of the U.S., dredged material with contaminants have been relocated into deep holes within the waterbodies farther from shore (think of potholes in the water). The process allowed the contaminated materials to be capped with a mound of clean materials. In fact, the U.S. Army Corps of

Engineers along with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has decades of field studies that show that the capping process contained those materials with contaminants.

Costs of Dredging
Many argue that dredged material must be placed upland, reasonably close to where the material can be placed and dewatered. Then, that material needs to go to an acceptable landfill and/or processed. It’s not practical in most developed areas and logistically infeasible due to the lack of close-by areas that can be used for unloading and dewatering. The fact is that big brother/sister takes the positon ‘that is not their job.’

So the result is that the water depths are shallowing up.
And in fact, that is what is happening to many facilities, particularly in built-up metropolitan shorelines. Many marinas are no longer viable due to the shallowing of water depths and are turning to eliminating the marina and building condos. The result is that shorelines around the world are being lined with medium and high rise residential complexes blocking the scenic vistas and eliminating access into the water. And there is big money in it for developers and tax revenues for municipalities, and 20 years from today, one is going to say how could they let it happen.

There are others who believe that material with contaminants may be treated or processed into “beneficial uses.” Yet most approaches and demonstration projects fail to achieve these goals in any reasonably economic fashion. When one understands that approximately 80 percent of the more than 10,000 marinas in the U.S. have less than 100 boats and approximately 50 percent have less than 50 boats, dredging is not economically feasible for most of those facilities.

Take a look at the Corps and EPA websites or other online literature, and you will find an abundance of studies, plans and alternatives for dredging and dredge material relocation, beneficial use, etc. – all generally geared to providing both environmentally friendly and affordable options. Almost all involve massive dredging projects and no options for marinas.
If the bottom sediments are mostly clean sand, then rebuilding nearby shoreline beaches (beach nourishment) can be a viable option. But most demonstration projects that have been undertaken, such as mixing with concrete for paving or other construction uses, are mostly so expensive that they are not economically feasible.

The ‘green fee’ for dredging (i.e., the testing) has gone from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars, and if levels of concern arise, the testing cost can go much higher. Even just getting approval of a testing plan in some places has evolved from a fairly simple process to a multi-agency bureaucratic mess that can take months and significant dollars to get through. And at the end of that process and review of the test results, it is increasingly common for applicants to be told that they failed – no in-water options available, even with mitigation and management and upland options.

Decreasing Access
Today, the result of not being able to afford dredging and relocating the material is a significant decrease in public access to the water. It flies directly in the face of most Coastal Zone Management programs’ principles of access for the public.

There’s a private operator in the northeast trying to make a go of it, as an independent dredge material drop off site. They take dredged material and get rid of it, whether through beneficial use or more traditional upland placement. At the moment, they are quoting up to $190 per cubic yard for a typical marina dredge project – and that price does not include the actual dredging or barging the material to them! Where private industry has tried to step in to solve the problem, they have been met with numerous regulatory delays and high costs.

Governments need to step up to the plate, not as naysayers or ‘it’s not my job’ but by being proactive in facilitating the relocation of dredge materials and sites and programs for the relocation of dredged material. These can include approaches such as the use of deep holes, containment islands, waterfront unloading areas for staging and dewatering of dredge materials for transfer to other approved upland sites.

I am a big believer in being proactive and allowing dredging with relocation of dredged material in an environmentally safe manner. It is important for governments, politicians and the industry to take a broader, long-term look at the cause and effect issues. Not dredging and relocating material from the shallow estuary areas, where marinas are most commonly located only causes more environmental long-term concerns as well as reduces and eliminates access by the public into the water.

Dan Natchez is president of DANIEL S. NATCHEZ and ASSOCIATES Inc., a leading international environmental waterfront design consulting company specializing in the design of marinas and marina resorts throughout the world. He invites your comments and inquiries by phone at 914/698-5678, by fax at 914/698-7321, by e-mail at or on the Web at