County council to consider dredging of Nanticoke River

Feb. 7 was a big day for Sussex County’s economic development office, as director Steve Masten petitioned council for help in finding a site to accommodate spoils from a proposed dredging project on the Nanticoke River.

Barge traffic along the Nanticoke is big business, Masten explained, bringing in about 1.5 million tons of aggregate (rock and sand) for builders, grain and fertilizer for farmers and petroleum products for the Invista nylon plant in Seaford (Invista having taken over operations from DuPont).

According to Masten, each barge replaces about 150 tractor-trailer loads (a few less, for grain). The river transport is fuel efficient, clean and indispensable to businesses in western Sussex, he said.

He estimated negative impact to the county on the order of $2.4 billion if the Nanticoke ever silted in to the point that it became unnavigable.

Barge operators are already reporting some shoals, though. Army Corps of Engineers’ Bob Blama said it had been 10 years and is now time for another maintenance dredge — in certain areas, at any rate. In other areas, the Nanticoke’s naturally deep and probably won’t ever need to be dredged.

The hitch: the Army Corps will need to remove 80,000 cubic yards of dirt, and they need a 50-acre patch of ground where they can dump it.

Council Member Vance Phillips asked about the possibility of using state lands along the banks. However, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s (DNREC’s) Chuck Williams said those lands were out of bounds — federally managed, and therefore restricted to uses supporting wildlife or fishing.

County Attorney Jim Griffin added that he sometimes hunted in that area, and there wasn’t a lot of cleared land along the river banks. As Blama seconded, Fish & Wildlife certainly wouldn’t approve if the county had to knock down a bunch of trees (although the division might grant permission to transport the materials across state lands to a more suitable site).