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Dredging project is vital

Published 10:19pm Friday, April 26, 2013

In the midst of all the hullabaloo surrounding the federal budget, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has found the money necessary to begin the long-overdue process of dredging Bennett’s Creek. With the federal government funding 59 percent of the $144,000 project, the hit to the bloated U.S. budget will be vanishingly minuscule. But the benefit to the community will be huge.

Suffolk’s waterways have been vital to its economy since the Nansemond Indian tribe harvested fish and oysters from the rivers and creeks that cut through their land. The creeks and rivers of Suffolk have provided important links to commerce for Hampton Roads since the first settlers arrived from Europe. And generations of watermen have earned their living harvesting the abundant resources to be found in those waters. Leisure activities along the waterways add to their import and have provided great family memories for countless residents and visitors.

In recent years, though, navigating Bennett’s Creek has become a challenge, as shoaling from erosion has begun to fill the channel. The Corps of Engineers estimates that the creek should be dredged every five years to keep it navigable.

Hurricane Sandy’s passage last fall exacerbated the problem, forcing watermen and leisure boaters to conscientiously schedule trips around high tides and to carefully search for safe passage. Coincidentally, the hurricane also assured the dredging project would be completed, as the federal money for it was appropriated through last year’s Disaster Relief Appropriations Act.

When the first round of dredging is complete, the channel will be 3.5 feet deep at its minimum. A second phase of the project will ensure an eight-foot channel at low tide. That should be deep enough for most any vessel that is likely to sail along Bennett’s Creek. And it will ensure that the creek remains a vital part of Suffolk’s economy for years to come.

Meanwhile, the city should plan contingencies to fund regular dredging of the creek so Suffolk will not have to rely on another round of disaster funding to pay for the project.

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