“This harbor has a billon dollar impact on the regional economy, and we're about to enter the 100 days of summer where there will be the most traffic. We have to make an argument to prioritize this project.”

DESTIN — Congressman Matt Gaetz toured the East Pass with the U.S. Coast Guard on Wednesday to determine the level of need for expedited dredging.

Destin City Councilman Rodney Braden, Okaloosa County Commissioner Kelly Windes and Matt Trammell of Taylor Engineering accompanied Gaetz on the tour.

They later discussed the dangerously shallow water throughout East Pass during a small informational meeting at Dewey Destin’s restaurant on Calhoun Avenue.

“We saw with our own eyes areas where there was only 8 feet of water in the center of the channel just outside the jetties,” Gaetz said. “We have to get the Army Corps of Engineers immediately engaged to dredge the East Pass.”

The Corps of Engineers originally said it could dredge the East Pass in October, but Gaetz believes the job should be done immediately.

The pass hasn’t been dredged since 2014, Trammell said.

“This harbor has a billon dollar impact on the regional economy, and we’re about to enter the 100 days of summer where there will be the most traffic. We have to make an argument to prioritize this project,” Gaetz said.

Two survey maps provided by the Corps of Engineers showed the change in water depth between July and November of last year.

“You see the depths here are all over 12 feet,” Gaetz said as he pointed to the map from last July. “The November map now lacks that clearance.”

Between July and November, Hurricanes Irma and Nate reduced the level of East Pass by about 4 feet.

Moving forward, Gaetz plans to make the case that dredging East Pass should be eligible for federal disaster relief funding.

“The Corps indicated that if we’re able to make the case for funding, the dredging could begin in a matter of weeks rather than a matter of months, and that makes all the difference.” he said.

Because there is no federal cargo that moves through East Pass, there is no dedicated stream of money to dredge it regularly.

“We have to solve this acute need now to get this dredged so we don’t have a negative consequence from a safety or economic standpoint,”  Gaetz said. “Long term, we need a solution where there is a regular plan or schedule to dredge the East Pass."

Windes agreed. He said the current state of the East Pass is dangerous, and it will be an all-hands-on-deck situation to come up with a solution.