'LETS GET IT DONE': Boat captains urge city leaders to dredge harbor mouth, navigation channel

Matt Algarin
The mouth of the Destin harbor is once again in need of dredging, according to longtime Destin boat captains. City officials say the mouth was last cleaned out in 2010.

If the city doesn't act quickly, boat captains say it's only a matter of time before the mouth of the harbor and navigation channel become choked up.

"Lets not wait until the fleet is bottled up," Capt. George Eller told city leaders during Tuesday night's City Council meeting. "We are getting close to that crisis management point.

Let’s not do crisis management, let’s get it done."

According to city officials, the mouth of the harbor was last dredged in 2010. Prior to that, City Manager Maryann Ustick said the Army Corps of Engineers last dredged the mouth of the harbor 10 years ago.

A lack of funding for maintenance projects had lead the Corps to focus more of their dredging attention on "deep water ports," which does not include Destin.

While the ultimate solution to the problem is the eventual stabilization of Norriego Point, Mayor Sam Seevers said, the Corps should do something in the interim.

"That's their responsibility and they are not doing their jobs," she said.

One solution would be to purchase a maintenance dredge, Councilman Jim Bagby said. He told his colleagues that the city had an opportunity to purchase a surplus dredge years ago, but they didn't bite. He said now might be the time to re-look at the idea.

"If we are going to be left to our own devices, we need to get some of our own devices," he said. "We need to consider that option."

Eller told city leaders owning a dredge wouldn't be a bad idea. He said at one point, he operated a maintenance dredging company and would be happy to help the city out if they found a machine to purchase.

"We would be ready at any time," he said. "We would never ever be short of volunteers to operate that thing."

Boat captain Tony Davis also spoke Tuesday night and said he had been out fishing recently and the channel near the bridge is in bad shape.

"It's going to get more dangerous," he said. "Something has got to be done very soon or we are going to be in trouble."

Just last month, boat captain Cliff Atwell told The Log he was having trouble navigating the Buccaneer Pirate Ship and Southern Star through the East Pass and navigation channel as well.

"We've cancelled trips because we can't get out of there," Atwell said at the time. "We've gotten stuck (by the bridge) and the Coast Guard had to come get us out."

While purchasing a dredge would be a long-term solution, Councilman Tuffy Dixon said something has to be done relatively quickly. He said he has been talking to the Okaloosa County Tourist Development Council to see if they would be able to assist the city.

City leaders unanimously voted to work with the TDC to try and secure funding for a dredge project.

With one of the largest fishing fleets in the state of Florida, Davis told city leaders how important it is for boats to be able to travel freely through the harbor, especially with the spring break and summer seasons right around the corner.

"That sign says 'World's Luckiest Fishing Village' and we better protect what we've got,' " he said.