SHALIMAR — By the end of this week, Okaloosa County officials hope to find a dredge that can perform the county’s East Pass dredging/beach restoration work, possibly within the “100 days of summer” from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
“We’re still contacting dredging companies to see if they have any equipment that could be allocated to dredge the East Pass,” Greg Kisela, deputy county administrator for operations, said on Monday. “We have some feelers out but nothing specific.”
County officials were forced to take this likely much-more-expensive route after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last week said that the dredge it had planned to send to Destin would instead go north to re-open the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway.
“The Tenn-Tom in the northern Mississippi section has experienced unusually high shoaling due the excessive amounts of rain” in recent weeks and “is completely blocked in one spot,” Corps’ officials said. “We have to get it reopened for traffic as it affects multiple companies and industries.”
If the Corps led the dredging/beach restoration project, federal funding would cover the $1.5 million project cost. If the county contracts directly with a dredging company, without partnering with the Corps, the cost likely would be closer to $2.5 million, which would be paid for with county bed tax money, Kisela said.
The county currently is looking at three dredges with the hope that one of them can perform the East Pass/beach restoration work ASAP, rather than waiting until as long as this fall for a Corps-contracted dredge to become available.
One of the dredges the county is considering is owned by Louisiana-based Mike Hooks LLC, whose Corps-contracted dredge is being diverted from a project in Perdido Pass, Alabama, to the north instead of Destin.
Kisela said that company might have another large dredge that could perform the county’s project. County officials also are looking into the possibility of either getting a dredge from Jacksonville or one that’s currently in Panama City to do the work.
The latter two dredges, however, are smaller than the Mike Hooks’ dredge, Kisela said.
“The concern with the small dredges is that you’ve got all that risk if there is poor weather,” he said, referring to how the smaller equipment often cannot handle stormy Gulf waters. “The smaller dredges get beat up out there, if they go at all. They will put delay claims in their contract,” with the company being paid $40,000 to $50,000 for each day the dredge sits idle until the weather clears.
“The only thing worse than not dredging is paying somebody not to dredge,” Kisela said.
A proposed agreement with a dredging company could be ready for the County Commission’s consideration on March 25.
“There is an outside chance we could still get (the overall project) done within the 100 days of summer,” Kisela said. “A smaller dredge could be available as early as early- to mid-April.”
The project calls for 105,000 cubic yards of sand to be placed on a section of Okaloosa Island beach just west of the west jetty and 105,000 cubic yards of sand to go on a portion of Holiday Isle beach just east of the east jetty.
Kisela said while the East Pass is in desperate need of dredging so military vessels and charter fishing boats can continue to get through it, he understands why the Corps is sending its contracted dredge to clear the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway.
“Their priority is clearing channels for barges that are bringing in freight,” he said. “We have the military and charter boats’ impact, but we’re not bringing a tremendous amount of commerce” through the pass. “In the big picture (the diversion of the dredge) is probably the right decision, but it’s frustrating because we thought they were coming here.”