DESTIN — The deeper and wider mouth of the Destin Harbor, which was enlarged during the first phase of the Norriego Point stabilization and recreation project, looks pretty terrific, said charter boat Capt. Brant Kelly.

Kelly commands the 65-foot-long charter boat, Relentless, which has a 5-foot draft.

Before it was recently dredged, the harbor entrance contained a sandbar that he used to steer his boat around.

“If you didn’t hook it, you could drag the bottom,” Kelly said. “Some of the bigger boats, including sailboats, had issues.”

During the first phase of the Norriego Point project, about 5 acres of sand were dredged from the harbor entrance and from north of the Marler Bridge. The sand was added to the 7.6 acre point, bringing it back to its pre-1995 Hurricane Opal profile.

The dredging work and other construction aspects of the first phase of the Norriego Point project were completed in late May.

The dredging “dramatically increased the opening in the harbor,” said Pearce Barrett, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s project manager for the overall Norriego Point work.

Data on pre- and post-dredging depths of the harbor entrance and other areas that were dredged was not immediately available.

“We’re closing out that part of the project,” Barrett said.

In addition to the dredging, the first phase included the installation of sheet piling, rock breakwaters and rock shoreline stabilization structures, the creation of swimming areas on the East Pass side and the restoration of more than 1,000 feet of shoreline.

“The objective of the project is to help prevent more ... sand from moving into the harbor,” Barrett said.

Kelly praised the project for not only creating a deeper harbor entrance, but also a wider one.

“They did a really good job,” he said. “Before (the dredging work), it was narrowed down to one-way boat traffic. Now, it’s open for three-way traffic. It looks pretty terrific. I hope it lasts.”

Kelly, who grew up at the foot of the Marler Bridge, recalled Norriego Point extending all the way to the bridge in certain years and being massively eroded by Opal and other storms in other years.

Now, the sand dune on Norriego Point “is bigger than it’s ever been,” he said. “It will be a big help for hurricane protection for the docks along the harbor.”

Cliff Atwell, captain of the Buccaneer Pirate Ship, also appreciates the expanded harbor entry.

The 100-foot-long pirate ship has a 7.2-foot draft, carries 149 passengers and sails every day except Sunday in the summer.

“What they’ve done around Norriego Point has been spectacular,” Atwell said. “There is plenty of room for two boats to pass easily.”

He added, however, that the East Pass still is in desperate need of dredging.

A “so far, so good” review of the dredging of the harbor entrance came from Steve Regan, captain of the Cutting Edge charter boat.

“It helps,” said Regan, whose 41-foot boat has a 3-foot draft. “It would get very shallow through there” at the entrance. “Now, they've got to dredge the main pass.”

John Tenore, captain of the 22-foot-long, 1.5-foot-draft Dawn Patrol charter boat, said while he didn’t have to worry much about shallow water in the harbor, he appreciates the recent extension of Norriego Point.

“I think overall, extending the point makes it less wavy in the harbor,” Tenore said. “You’re going to have less erosion.”

Norriego Point project officials plan to plant various types of vegetation on the park’s enlarged sand dune in late summer, and add facilities such as restrooms, showers, picnic shelters, a boardwalk, new parking spots and at least one dune crossover in the winter.

The entire, more than $12 million Norriego Point stabilization and recreation project is being paid for with settlement money from the 2010 BP oil spill and could be completed next spring.