Orleans wants plan in place for dredging Oak Orchard Harbor

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 27 October 2016 at 7:24 pm
File photo: The dredging barge is near the breakwall at the Oak Orchard Harbor in this photo from August 2014.

File photo: The dredging barge is near the breakwall at the Oak Orchard Harbor in this photo from August 2014.

POINT BREEZE – Orleans County legislators want to reignite a push for a dredging plan for harbors on the southshore of Lake Ontario.

The harbors haven’t been dredged on a timely basis the past decade, leaving a buildup of sediment and silt that can make some channels impassable for larger boats.

The Oak Orchard Harbor was last dredged in 2014. It went 10 years between dredgings. County officials said the harbor should be cleared of sentiment every three to five years.

Orleans wants to partner with other southshore counties to come up with a plan for cyclical dredging, said Legislator Lynne Johnson, R-Lyndonville.

Niagara County already is interested in the project, and so is Wayne County. If there are multiple counties in a dredging plan that could help with convince companies with dredging equipment to offer a better price for the sediment removal, Johnson said.

The Army Corps of Engineers has been determining the dredging schedule, and in recent years the Corps has given priority to busier harbors, rather than those that are primary for recreation, such as Oak Orchard’s.

The Oak Orchard Harbor was dredged when federal funds from Superstorm Sandy were directed for the job.

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 about $7 million 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 worked with six southshore counties on a plan for regular harbor maintenance and dredging back in 2014. 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.

“We need to have a plan, a cyclical schedule,” Johnson said today. “We don’t want to wait 10 years before we have our harbor dredged again.”

The federal money from the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy took some of the urgency away for the harbor dredging plan. But Johnson said the county wants to push the plan again.

Orleans and Niagara (and perhaps Wayne and others) intend to seek state funding from the Department of State. That money may go to a contractor with dredging equipment, Johnson said.

The Oak Orchard Harbor is important for the fishing industry, which is the county’s top tourism draw. It’s also popular with many recreational boaters.

“We need to capitalize on the tourism and fishing industries,” she said.

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