Some say it’s better, others not so much.
They travel in and out of East Pass most every day, sometimes twice or even three times a day during the spring, summer and fall to get out to the Gulf of Mexico to fish.
In late February, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer-led project started its efforts to dredge out East Pass and make it safer for boaters to navigate and use the sand pulled from the pass to restore the beaches just east of the jetties. The $2 million project was supposed to take between four and six weeks.
However, with about a week’s worth of work left to do, the dredge broke in early April and had to go to Mobile, Alabama, for repairs.
The dredged arrived back in town the first week in May and is still at it, but almost done.
But is the dredging making a difference?
“Yes it is,” said Capt. Jim Green of the New Florida Girl’s American Spirit, one of the largest boats in the harbor at a 100-feet. “There is a lot more water available ... in the channel. They are almost complete, but the sea condition keeps slowing them down. They have about 100 yards to go, if that.
“There is over 15 foot of depth in places I have not seen it in years,” he added.
Capt. Gary Jarvis said prior to the dredge coming in there were places in the pass that had gotten so bad that it was only 6 to 9 feet in some spots. However, when they finish it should be restored to where it was originally designed, 20 feet.
Capt. Allen Staples of the 100 Proof, a 52-foot charter boat, said he wouldn’t have been able to fish on Saturday if they hadn’t dredged.
“Big time (it’s made a difference),” he said.
Capt. Mike Eller of the charter boat Lady Em, a 65-footer, agreed with Green.
“There is more deep water than there used to be,” Eller said.
Not everyone agrees that the dredging has had a positive impact on navigating the pass though.
“I’m not sure its noticeably better yet,” said Capt. Stan Phillips of the Destination, a 55-foot charter boat.
Phillips said he understands they are not finished yet, but he’s thankful for what’s been done thus far.
“I guess every little bit helps,” Phillips said.
Capt. Brady Bowman of the Bow’d Up said he can’t really tell.
“It’s been too rough to really tell,” Bowman said, noting the rough seas that came in with Tropical Storm Cristobal.
Although some say it’s better and some can’t tell, others says it’s not easier to navigate since the dredge has been here.
“No, it’s not easier ... the reason is they dredged from the east jetty to buoys, which (has) always been west of the natural flow of water,” said Capt. Mike Graef of the Huntress. “They should have dredged south of the middle of the pass.”
Plus he said they made it difficult while they were actually dredging, noting if he had to go to far west he might run aground.
“It won’t take long for it all to fill back in,” Graef said.
Capt. Cliff Cox of the Sweet Jody, a 56-foot party boat, had different ideas as well.
“You can tell where they dredged, but there is still a very shallow place on the rim of the bar that they did not dredge,” Cox said. “I went over it (Friday) coming in and it’s pretty shallow.”
Cox said the problem is the southwestern direction they always dredge is not where the outbound water flow from the jetties keeps it deeper.
“They should reposition the channel more to the east and straight out from the jetties, where it naturally stays deeper,” Cox said. “Most of us have been going in and out there for years because it stays deeper and most of the time gives you a better angle to deal with rough seas on the bar. What they dredged outside of the jetties on the bar will fill in pretty fast, as it always does, probably before the end of the summer.”
The last time the pass was dredged was in 2014. In the last couple of years, the Corps of Engineers agreed to dredge the East Pass, but then reneged on its commitment, sending dredging contractors to other projects.