Counties may buy dredging equipment to ensure harbors stay open

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 30 October 2014 at 12:00 am

File photo – The dredging barge is near the breakwall at the end of the Oak Orchard channel when the harbor was dredged in August for the first time in 10 years.

KNOWLESVILLE – For much of the last five years Orleans County officials waited and begged to have the Oak Orchard Harbor dredged of silt and sediment. The harbor was finally dredged in August, when federal funds from Superstorm Sandy were directed to the Oak Orchard Harbor.

Congress hasn’t set aside money on a regular basis to clean out recreational harbors like the Oak Orchard. During low lake level years boats can run aground in the harbor. That happened to the Oak Orchard in 2012.

A clogged harbor makes the county’s fishing and recreational boating industries vulnerable. The harbor generates $7,087,101 in economic activity for the county, resulting in 117 direct and indirect jobs. It also yields $283,484 in sales tax revenue for the county with the same sales tax for the state, according to a consultant, Frank Sciremammano of FES Environmental and Marine Consultants.

Sciremammano has worked with six southshore counties on a plan for regular harbor maintenance and dredging. The Army Corps of Engineers has been dredging the Genesee River and the Port of Oswego, which are both commercial harbors, but the recreational harbors have languished.

To ensure regular dredging, Sciremammano is suggesting the counties form an authority or local development corporation that would buy dredging equipment, apply for dredging permits and get the work done.

The Army Corps would still do the Genesee River and Oswego, but the other 17 harbors would be handled by the counties.

That plan would require $522,403 annually with the Orleans County share at $23,655. Sciremammano suggested counties pay half of the costs out of county budgets with increased boater registration fees covering the other half. Vessels up to 16 feet would pay $3.13 more a year for its boater fee, while boats 17 to 26 feet would pay $10.42 more and boats over 26 feet would pay $15.63 annually.

“I don’t think it’s excessive,” Sciremammano told about a dozen officials during a meeting about the dredging plan. “I think boaters wouldn’t mind paying it if they knew their harbor would be open.”

Photo by Tom Rivers – Frank Sciremammano, a consultant for the southshore counties with a dredging plan, discusses scenarios for keeping 19 harbors open during a meeting Wednesday at the Orleans County Cornell Cooperative Extension. Orleans County Legislator Ken DeRoller, left, and Niagara County Legislator David Godfrey attended the session.

Orleans and Niagara officials have already started pursuing help from the federal government for the upfront costs of purchasing equipment. Buying a suction dredge, a barge with a shovel or crane, plus a scow to haul away the sediment could cost about $1.2 million.

The counties could pursue buying the equipment, or they could opt to manage the permits and hire contractors for the work, but that would be at a higher cost about $650,000 to $900,000 annually, rather than the $522,403 if the authority or LDC did the work.

The total economic impact of the 19 harbors is $94 million and supports 1,350 jobs, according to the report.

The Genesee River and Oswego should have annual dredging, but other harbors, such as Oak Orchard, need to be done about once every six years, Sciremammano said. If the counties owned the equipment or hired contractors that schedule could be accelerated if needed.

The southshore counties have been working on the dredging plan since 2010. The state Department of State provided a $35,000 grant for the project, with Wayne Hale of Orleans County taking the lead in the effort.

“We want a sustainable maintenance plan for the harbors,” said Hale, the county’s tourism and planning director.

There will be another meeting about the dredging plan at 7 p.m. on Nov. 19 at the Sodus Point Village Hall.

“The goal is for a sustainable ongoing plan that we can count on,” Sciremammano said. “We’re trying to head those problems off.”