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Corps looks at options in dredging of channel

Crews will take drilling samples to learn what material lies beneath the water and how much must be moved.

By JENNIFER FARRELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 29, 2000


HERNANDO BEACH -- A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dive crew will begin taking drilling samples off the coast Tuesday as part of an ongoing study to determine the feasibility of dredging the Hernando Beach channel.

Drilling is expected to take about a month and will allow corps officials to determine what kind of material lies beneath the water's surface and how much of it must be moved as part of the $4-million dredge project.

Once they know the answers to those questions, officials will be able to determine what sort of equipment is needed to begin the dredge and to examine how best to dispose of the spoils.

"(Taking samples is) very important to determine which method of excavation to use," said Alberto Gonzalez, project manager with the corps. "After boring we'll have a better idea on the design."

Gonzalez said the dredge will likely widen and deepen the existing channel, rather than straighten its route as had been proposed. That means core drilling samples will be taken mostly from just outside the existing channel, which is approximately 50 feet wide, Gonzalez said.

The dive crew contacted the Coast Guard to make sure drilling will have the least possible impact on traffic in the channel, Gonzalez said. He asked that boaters use caution and reduce wake when they come upon divers.

The dredge project, begun in 1997, is still in the study phase.

An ongoing feasibility study will include collecting samples to determine what materials are in the channel; a hydrographic survey that will explore the depth of the channel; aerial photos; environmental studies to make sure no archaeological or historical features will be disturbed or any endangered species harmed; assessment of hazardous, toxic and radioactive waste; engineering and design work; a benefits analysis; and cost estimates for various alternatives.

Becky McClary, a regional economist with the corps, said she has turned her focus toward finding out how the proposed dredge might impact recreational boat users.

Corps officials have said that for the project to move forward, at least half its financial impact must benefit commercial interests, and ongoing maintenance of the channel paid for by the federal government would likewise be tied to commercial interests.

McClary said the information she has collected so far shows the benefit to commercial interests will cover at least half the cost of the project.

A report on the dredge is expected by the end of the year.

If approved, dredging could begin by June 2002 and would last three to six months. The federal government would pay 80 percent of the cost of the dredging, and the county will pick up the rest.

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