A dredging project off the coast of Eastpoint is set to start, but it’s not the long-awaited scooping out of the Eastpoint Channel.
That likely won’t be until April at the earliest.
“I’d be surprised if we started it within the next six weeks. Two months may be reasonable,” said Waylon Register, site manager of the Panama City site office of the Army Corps of Engineers Mobile district.
What the Corps is mobilizing for, on tiny Bird Island, is a biennial dredge of the Intracoastal Waterway, a roughly $2 million piece of a larger project that deepens the waterway as it runs east and west along the Panhandle.
Inland Dredging. Co. LLC, out of Dyersburg, Tennessee, is handling the assignment, having just completed work on the West Bay Canal, between Panama City and Destin.
What’s different this year is a beneficial use project worked out with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve.
This means that about 200,000 or so cubic yards of sand, the equivalent of 300,000 tons or about 13,000 dump truck loads, will be deposited on the island.
“The channel close to the mouth tends to be sandier, and we use the sandy material to construct on Bird Island,” said Register. “As you get nearer to the bay, it goes from silty fine grain into more like black mayonnaise. The bay bottom is soft, mucky stuff compared to the sandy bottom of the river.”
Over the next two months, the dredges will also be busy sucking up bay bottom, to deepen the channel from nine to 12 feet, and piping it out into the bay.
The environmental enhancement of the man-made island, which has avoided erosion by being added to over the years, will benefit birds, especially brown pelicans, in advance of the spring nesting season.
“When they’re ready, they’ll have nice, fresh, pretty yellowish sand to work with,” said Register. “They really like the sandy material, it covers up all the vegetations and it’s harder for predators to get to them, making it a relatively safe place.”
To contain water runoff off to the south, a backhoe and bulldozer will put up a dirt wall dike on the island, “and then shave and level it out to make it as optimal for birds as we can,” he said.
As for the dredging of Eastpoint Channel and Two-Mile, that will be done by smaller dredges, operated by Mike Hooks LLC, out of Westlake, Louisiana.
The county commission has approved a request to take out a short-term loan if there is a gap between payment of the county’s portion of dredge costs and its receipt of about $5 million in Triumph monies earmarked for the project.
Beyond that, with the help of former County Planner Alan Pierce, all is in place to start on the Eastpoint Channel soon.
“We’re working on putting together updated construction drawings. We really are ready to get started with this,” said Register. “I can’t say how long it will be. Everything so far has taken far longer than I expected it to. We’re committed to making it happen.”