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Housatonic dredging finished early, under budget

April 04, 2018 | Jim Shay | Website

A project to dredge the Housatonic River and move the material to Hammonasset State Park in Madison was completed two months ahead of schedule and under budget.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced Tuesday that work that was scheduled to end March 31 was finished by the end of December.

“The project was finished in December,” said Project Manager Erika Mark. “Our dredge window was October 1 through March 31, so that is the time frame the contractor had to get the work done. They began dredging in mid-October and finished in December so there was plenty of time to spare.”

A total of 273,881 cubic yards of clean, fine grain sand was dredged from the channel.

The project was the second dredging project in the lower end of the Housatonic in less than five years, Salvatore said. He said 70,000 cubic yards of sand were dredged in 2013 and moved to Hammonasset, but the riverbed has filled again.

The corps said more than 1,000 vessels - commercial and recreational - are based in the Housatonic River and nearby harbors.

It said 228,064 cubic yards of that material was placed on Hammonasset Beach to nourish the eroding beach. The sand was loaded on barges and taken 33 miles from the dredge site. Off Hammonasett, the sand was then pumped onto the beach.

Visitors to Hammonasset aired their concerns on social media about the look of the project and quality of the new sand.

Branford resident Martin Adamo, who often walks at Hammonasset, was very concerned about the situation and contacted state officials. In addition, he posted his concerns and photos on Simply Guilford, CT Facebook in mid-December, resulting in 38 comments from the public.

Since that time, he has revisited the site and found it has begun to look a bit better.

Brian Thompson, director of land and water resources division at the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said testing was done prior to the dredging project and it is free of contaminates and safe for beach use.

As far as the concerns that the Housatonic River has a history of contamination, Thompson stressed that the sand was taken from "the very lower end, near the mouth of river. The PCB contamination happened well up river, Massachusetts was the original source of the PCB contamination," he said in an interview last week.

He added, however, "certainly sediment moves downstream ... there wasn't a significant concern that PCBs would be in that lower part of the river from that far upstream source and sampling confirms there were not."

The west end of Hammonasset Beach State Park has been eroding for many years due to the orientation of the beach relative to the coastal winds that push sand from the western end to the eastern end, which then ends up having a thicker layer of sand.

The sand that dredged from the bottom of the Housatonic is fine- to medium-grain, which is good for a beach.

The grayish color of the new sand is markedly different than the sand that has been at Hammonasset for years, which Thompson said was normal since it came from a river bottom "Some portion of that is organic material and it will wash out or bleach out over time," he added.