Choked channel: Boat captain calls East Pass 'dangerous,' while city leaders work toward solution

Matt Algarin

It's been about five years since the federal navigation channel at East Pass has been dredged, and city leaders are looking forward to clearing out the shoaling sand.

"Historically, the Corps (Army Corps of Engineering) gets funds from Congress to dredge, but they have only been authorized to dredge deepwater inlets, which is not us," City Engineer David Campbell said. "We've been hearing there's a need."

City leaders met with representatives from the Corps of Engineers recently to discuss options for dredging, as it relates to the stabilization of Norriego Point.

Campbell told The Log the city would ideally like to place about 100,000 cubic yards of sand on Norriego Point as part of the stabilization project. As luck would have it, there is plenty of sand nearby to meet the demand.

By dredging the federal channel, the city has access to about 300,000 cubic yards of sand, in addition to roughly another 15,000-20,000 available in the Old Pass Lagoon and Destin harbor, both of which need dredging as well.

The city has had multiple discussions with the corps about dredging, Campbell said, but funding remains a challenge. So the city must find other options, which may include working with Okaloosa County and the Tourist Development Department or potentially working with the U.S. Coast Guard.

Based on responses to The Log's Facebook page, there is a definite need to dredge both East Pass and Old Pass Lagoon.

Nick Weldon wrote "As manager at Seatow, I've seen the Destin pass at its worse; as of now it's very dangerous towing small vessels through our pass with any swell, it also restricts bigger vessels from getting in our port. Bottom line, something needs to be done quick."

As the captain of the 72-foot charter boat Destiny, Chris McConnell wrote that he comes in and out of the pass about 250 days a year.

"There is no such thing as a channel in the pass anymore and hasn't been for a couple years now," he wrote on The Log's Facebook page. "That pass needs more attention than anything else in this town. It is an extremely dangerous pass and is very neglected."

The city recently secured $10.2 million through the Natural Resources Damage Assessment which will allow for the complete stabilization of Norriego Point. Two public hearings will be held regarding the funding. One meeting will be held in Panama City and the other in Pensacola on January 28 and 29.

Campbell said funds from that can be used to dredge, but solid plans must be in place when the money becomes available in about six months.

"We've got some work to do, but we've got our JCP (joint coastal permit) and our construction documents," Campbell said. "But we can't take our eye off the ball."