Dredging project hits another snag

Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) plans to dredge the 3.9-mile Assawoman Canal may have entered a new season of delay.

DNREC and Mid-Atlantic Environmental Law Center (MAELC) attorneys wrapped up testimony last month, following the latest Sierra Club appeal of the department’s latest permit issuance to start work.

This month, May 10, the Environmental Appeals Board concluded deliberations. The board passed a motion to “remand [the appeal] to the Secretary of DNREC with instructions to conduct a new cost/benefit analysis…”

As the motion continues, the cost/benefit analysis must follow DNREC regs and methodology, and be consistent with the board’s reasoning. Said analysis is to be incorporated in the board’s final order and decision.

The board typically spells out its reasoning in a formal legal decision, within 90 days of the end of deliberations.

By May 11, Rep. Gerald Hocker (38th District) said he’d met with Sen. George Howard Bunting (20th District), and they’d conferred with attorneys regarding the motion.

Hocker said he planned to do everything in his power to keep the process moving along. “If the appeal has to go back to DNREC, we’ll try to expedite,” he said. He reaffirmed his support for the dredging project, and suggested the Sierra Club was working against itself on the Assawoman Canal.

“It’s a manmade canal, and for environmental improvements, it needs to be dredged,” he said. Hocker also noted difficulties in putting a price tag on a recreational area, for the cost/benefit analysis.

Bunting said the board’s motion was frustrating, and likely to cost Delaware taxpayers.

He called it another delay in tactics, possibly an attempt to put the project back into a scenario necessitating further environmental impact study — after federal agencies had already signed off.

According to some environmentalists, although the canal is manmade, it has reverted to a natural state since the last maintenance dredging (46 years ago). Trees overhang the now shallow waters and boat traffic is restricted to kayaks and canoes, for the most part.

Regarding the cost/benefit analysis, DNREC officials have admitted the permitting process and legal costs associated with environmental appeals had totted up $80,000 as of this most recent appeal. The cost of the project itself has been estimated at $250,000.

DNREC Deputy Secretary David Small said they had about $90,000 already appropriated for equipment rental. The plan has been to use an excavator from the bank for some sections, he said, and a small dredge (on loan from the New Castle County Conservation District) for the rest.