The Piscataqua River Federal Channel dates back to 1879 and the currently authorized dimensions were completed in 1966 by the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE), with widening of the lower river completed in 1992. Its entire length of 6.2 nautical miles has an authorized depth of 35 feet and is 400 feet wide, expanding to 700 feet at sharp turning points. The channel begins at Clarks Island in Portsmouth Harbor, across the channel from New Castle, and terminates at the Atlantic Terminal in Newington, at navigation buoys 12 and 13. Two turning basins were included in the 1966 Federal project: one 850 feet wide opposite the Atlantic Terminal, and the second 950 feet wide just north of the Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH) power plant.
A third turning basin 1,000 feet wide was added in 1989 opposite the PDA-DPH Market Street Marine Terminal and the Granite State Mineral Terminal between the Memorial Bridge and the Sarah Long Bridge.
The channel opposite Henderson Point at navigation buoy 9, off Goat Island was dredged in 1992 when the ACOE removed 51,139 cubic yards to improve the water depth and expand the width of the channel at this hazardous turn.
Improvement Project: Currently the Portsmouth Pilots report that they are turning 765 foot ships in the 800 foot upper turning basin. The width of this basin poses significant safety concerns and limits the existing and future use of the industrial waterfront. The ACOE, working with the Division, has conducted a Feasibility Study and Environmental Assessment finalized in July 2014 that recommends expanding the upper turning basin to 1,200 feet. To date the Division has invested $563,200 in the project. The ACOE and the Division Director presented the project to the ACOE Civil Works Review Board (CWRB) on August 21, 2014. The CWRB approved the project. The next step is to secure Congressional authorization of the improvement project and funding from the ACOE and State to proceed with the design phase of the project. The cost of project design and construction is currently estimated at $21,295,000. .At that cost the burden to the State would be $5,322,400 with an additional $2,129,500 post-construction. The project will involve the removal of about 728100 cubic yards of predominantly clean, sandy material plus about 25,300 cubic yards of ledge, considerably less ledge than was anticipated. Because there was strong local opposition to placing the clean, sandy dredge material offshore of the local beaches, the ACOE worked closely with the EPA and relevant State and Federal agencies to identify an offshore disposal site. The EPA research vessel BOLD did extensive survey work during the summer of 2011, and the EPA and ACOE believe that they have identified an offshore site suitable for the disposal of dredged material from this project. It is unlikely to be used, however, as municipalities in Maine and Massachusetts have expressed interest in the material.
Maintenance Projects: Simplex Reach, located north of the PSNH power plant, has historically required dredging approximately every 7 years due to reoccurring shoaling. This area was dredged in 2000/2001 after a 9 year lapse. The shoaling at that time had reached such dangerous levels that the Portsmouth Pilots had been forced to restrict the allowable draft of vessels navigating that area. The overall project cost to the ACOE was $461,061.00.
Surveys conducted by the ACOE indicated that shoaling had again occurred in the Simplex Reach. The shoaling was entirely in Maine state waters. As a result, PDA-DPH was not required to obtain a Wetlands Permit nor a 401 Water Quality Certification from the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services. During the 2012/2013 dredge window the ACOE performed maintenance dredging and advanced maintenance dredging of 14,323 cubic yards of clean sand and gravel from the channel in the Simplex Reach. Advanced maintenance dredging involves dredging beyond the authorized channel dimensions in an effort to reduce the frequency of dredging, thereby decreasing potential environmental impacts and reducing the overall cost of maintaining the project. The ACOE performed advanced maintenance dredging only in those areas within the channel that had shoaled above -35 feet deep. The dredged material was placed in a previously used, in-river disposal area located approximately 3,000 feet downriver of the dredging area in a section of the river where depths exceed 50 feet.
Previous disposal sites used for dredged material disposal from maintenance dredging of the Simplex Shoal have been both outside of and within the river, with no discernible differences between the two on subsequent dredge quantities or interval between dredging events. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the New Hampshire Fish & Game (NHFG) have taken the position that in-river disposal is acceptable for the project if certain conditions are met, such as no dredging in November. The NHFG encouraged advance maintenance dredging to be incorporated into future maintenance dredging events in the river as part of a programmatic approach to maintaining the channel in the Simplex Reach. Because this approach appears to reduce the frequency that maintenance dredging is needed, it thereby reduces potential environmental impacts. NMFS and USFWS also encouraged the ACOE to seek out alternative disposal sites for future projects. It is important to note that this would require additional funding as the ACOE will perform the dredge in the most economical and expeditious manner possible (which they believe to be in-river disposal), and anything done beyond that is at the expense of the sponsor.
FORT POINT Fort Point is in the Piscataqua River adjacent to Fort Constitution and the U.S. Coast Guard Station in New Castle, NH. The area has never been dredged. In the past safety concerns have been expressed by the Portsmouth Pilots and many ships’ captains.
In 1995 these concerns were passed on to the ACOE by the New Hampshire Port Authority and a complete Navigational Improvement Study and Reconnaissance Report was requested. In May 1996 the ACOE responded that the area was outside the Federal Project and could not be dredged under their maintenance program, and funding was not available for the initiation of new investigations at that time. Recent changes in the ACOE regulations may allow for an investigation.
In 2004 the US Coast Guard received approval from the Department of Environmental Services (DES) Wetlands Bureau to dredge approximately 11,500 cubic yards of accumulated sediment from the area of their boathouse and pier in order to improve navigation for their vessels. The project was completed in the spring of 2007. There was no expenditure to the State for this project.
LITTLE HARBOR Little Harbor is situated on the southern side of Great Island (New Castle) and the northern side of Rye near Odiorne Point State Park. The harbor is protected from the Atlantic Ocean by a 550 foot long north breakwater and a 900 foot long south breakwater. The 3,000 foot long entrance channel is 100 feet wide with a 40 acre anchorage area. The original authorized project by the ACOE for the channel and the entire anchorage called for a 12’ depth. The harbor extends from the breakwaters to the Route 1B Bridge near the Wentworth by the Sea Hotel.
The original dredging project began in 1894 and was completed in 1903. Little Harbor is designated by the Federal government as a “Harbor of Refuge” and is the responsibility of the ACOE to maintain. Since 1903 there have been 4 dredging projects. In 1985 the Wentworth By The Sea Corporation removed 160,610 cubic yards for the construction of their marina. In 1987 an additional 16,000 cubic yards were removed from Witch Creek, which empties into Little Harbor on the southwestern side. In 1993 the ACOE and the NH Port Authority were involved in an emergency dredging project to provide access to the public landing in front of Wentworth Marina.
During the dredge window of 2000/2001 there were 40,500 cubic yards of material dredged from Little Harbor and deposited offshore near Wallis Sands State Park in order to provide a source of beach nourishment. The project was intended to maintain the channel depth at a minimum of 10 feet and a portion of the anchorage area at 6 feet to 8 feet. The cost of the project to the ACOE was $775,000.00. The Port Authority expended $40,000.00 for the removal, storage and replacement of moorings.
The 2000/2001 project had an environmental impact upon 7.3 acres of eelgrass in the harbor. Rummel, Klepper and Kahl (RK&K) was contracted by the ACOE to develop a mitigation plan for the eelgrass and to monitor the results of that plan. The University of New Hampshire worked as a subcontractor for RK&K during the eelgrass planting and monitoring efforts. This monitoring process was completed in September 2002.
This office has consistently advocated for the need to maintain Little Harbor at the original project depth of 12 feet throughout. While the Port Authority did agree to the reduced dredge area and depth in 2000/2001 the Division intends to request increased depth when the need next arises for maintenance. The ACOE recently conducted an eelgrass study in conjunction with the preparation of an Environmental Assessment for future maintenance dredge work. A recent ACOE survey conducted in September 2013 confirmed that shoaling is present in Little Harbor, however dredging is not warranted at this time.
BACK CHANNEL/SAGAMORE CREEK The back channel is approximately 3 to 5 feet deep, 75 to 100 feet wide and is 2 nautical miles long. It extends from the Route 1B bridge on the westerly end of Little Harbor (near the Wentworth by the Sea Hotel) to the intersection with Sagamore Creek near Blunts Island, continues northwesterly past Leaches Island and terminates at the Piscataqua River by the Route 1B bridge between Shapleigh Island and Goat Island.
Sagamore Creek branches off from the Back Channel near Blunts Island and runs southwesterly to the Sagamore Avenue Bridge on Route 1A in Portsmouth. The ACOE considers both of these channels to be included in the Sagamore Creek Federal project.
In 1964 and 1968 Mike’s Marina dredged approximately 400 cubic yards from the area of the Marina. In 1971 the ACOE removed 30,000 cubic yards from the creek.
Condition surveys conducted by the ACOE since 2002 have illustrated shoaling in several areas of the creek. Although there is currently no funding available for the ACOE to dredge the area, they recently completed an eelgrass survey of the project area and benthic sampling in the proposed near-shore disposal area located off Wallis Sands. The ACOE estimates that $150,000 is needed to finish the environmental coordination process and develop plans and specifications, while $1,250,000 is needed for construction. All of this would be Federal expenditure and the money has been requested of the Congressional Delegation.
The New Hampshire Department of Transportation is currently in the design phase of a new bridge on Route 1B near the Wentworth by the Sea Hotel. Under consideration are two designs, one of which would be fixed and unable to open. Because the existing Route 1B bascule bridge is too narrow to allow passage of dredging equipment, all dredging equipment accessing the Federal channels is required to pass under the fixed span Route 1B bridge (NH-DOT bridge identification - “New Castle 031/142”) to the north of the Back Channels area. Both the fixed span or bascule bridge alternatives being considered by the State would constitute an improvement as far as impacts to dredging and the Corps is in support of either alternative, although the bascule bridge alternative provides the greatest improvement from a dredging perspective.
The Cocheco River is approximately 2.65 nautical miles long and runs from the intersection of the Piscataqua River and the Salmon Falls River to the Washington Street Bridge in downtown Dover. The last dredge of the Cocheco was in 1895. The authorized channel is 60 to 75 feet wide and 7 feet deep. The City of Dover has been revitalizing the waterfront area of their downtown and as part of the project was very interested in having the Cocheco River dredged. The river had depths as shallow as 4.7 to 0.3 feet at the northern end of the channel. High levels of contamination were found in the dredge materials. The City of Dover built a containment system at the site of their old landfill and the material was trucked to that location. In accordance with state statute, this office is identified in the Wetlands Bureau permit as the applicant for the project, however there has been no expenditure by the State.
The City of Dover was able to enlist the aid of the Congressional Delegation and obtain funding for the Cocheco dredge which the ACOE began during the 2004/2005 dredge window. Because of the amount of ledge found during the project the ACOE was unable to complete the dredge in the 2004/2005 dredge season. The ACOE requested that the controlling depth be reduced to 6 feet for the purpose of this project and this office agreed, which allowed the project to proceed. Additional funding was obtained for the 2006/2007 dredge season and additional work was done. However, for a variety of reasons, including ice conditions and continued problems with ledge, the project was not completed. Funding had not been available to complete the project. The ACOE has reimbursed the City of Dover for placing the dredge spoils into the containment area which left them without sufficient funds to continue dredging. In 2009 the ACOE and the City met with staff members of the NH Congressional Delegation to discuss the future of the project. It was decided at that meeting to keep the disposal facility open one more season in the hopes that the Congressional Delegation could appropriate funds for the Federal Government's Fiscal Year 2010. The joint House/Senate Environment & Water Conference Report passed on October 15, 2009 included an additional $2 million for the Cocheco River project. The $2 million, combined with the $1.8 million that the ACOE already had available for the project has enabled them to complete the dredging component of the project and to meets its financial obligations to the City of Dover for its use of the disposal facility. The third and final phase of the project was completed in 2010.
OYSTER RIVER The Oyster River runs from downtown Durham near Route 108 easterly into Little Bay. This is not a Federal navigation project and is the sole responsibility of the State to maintain.
There have been several requests from the University of New Hampshire and from residents along the Oyster River to dredge the channel. As a result a committee was formed and a study, funded through the Clean Water Act Section 319, was conducted. The cost was $29,200 and was paid for through a grant issued by the Department of Environmental Services to the Town of Durham. The Oyster River Feasibility Study for Re-establishing a Navigation Channel dated November 30, 2004 recommended dredging the Oyster River navigation channel to a depth of 4 feet with an average width of 38 feet. The report indicates that this project would improve safe navigation and would also improve dilution of the treated wastewater from the Durham treatment system. In February 2006, at the request of the NH Dredge Management Task Force (DMTF), a representative from the Oyster River Task Group presented an overview of the project to the DMTF. A number of DMTF members, including the ACOE, NMFS, NHFG and the DES Wetlands Bureau provided preliminary comments on the proposal. Currently funding is not available to proceed with this project.
Hampton and Seabrook Harbors support a commercial fishing fleet, charter fishing and whale watch boats, as well as numerous recreational craft. This office maintains a commercial fishing facility in Hampton as well as a recreational facility complete with a public launch ramp. The Town of Seabrook provides a public pier and a launch ramp used by both commercial and recreational boats. Yankee Commercial Fisherman’s Cooperative is located on a Seabrook town facility which was formerly owned by PSNH and was built during construction of Seabrook Station. Hampton/Seabrook Harbors are accessed from the seaward through a common entrance channel.
A 1965 Memorandum of Understanding between the State of New Hampshire and the ACOE set the responsibility for maintenance of the harbors and the entrance channel. The ACOE maintains the entrance channel from the Route 1A Bridge seaward. That channel is approximately 0.7 miles long, 150 feet wide with a controlling depth of 8 feet. The State of New Hampshire is responsible for the approximately 22 acres of anchorage and access channels inside of the Route 1A Bridge. The ACOE completed a Feasibility Study under Section 107 which determined that there is enough use of the harbors to economically justify that agency assuming responsibility once again for the entire project. The draft report and Environmental Assessment have been reviewed and a 30-day Public Notice review period ended in October 2011. The report and EA were finalized and submitted for approval in December 2011. Completion of the feasibility study cost $220,000, with a State share of $60,000. The “Plans and Specs” phase of the project was completed at a cost $170,000 of which the State was responsible for $20,000. The ACOE unexpectedly found that the money was allocated to the project and it was completed during the 2012/2013 dredge period. The total cost for the project was bid higher than anticipated at $3,162,780 The State/Division is responsible for the portion of those costs for a depth of 6 feet, with the ACOE and the State sharing the cost of all dredging below 6 feet (80% and 20% respectively). This applies to inner harbor areas allocated to commercial navigation use. The cost to the State/Division came to $1,308,000, with an additional cost of approximately $87,000 to remove the moorings to allow for the work. There is also another $238,104.97 that the State owes the ACOE, which is the additional 10% upon completion. The ACOE has agreed to assume responsibility for future maintenance of the inner harbor commercial areas in a “freshly dredged” condition. Areas allocated to recreational use will continue to be the responsibility of the State, but this change will save the State from having to bear much of the expense of dredging in the future.
The total volume of material dredged was 167,947 cubic yards of clean sand which was placed on Seabrook Beach, and on the beach at Hampton Beach State Park.
Located on the south side of the entrance channel, seaward of the Route 1A Bridge is a structure known as the half tide jetty. The jetty is adjacent to the community of Sun Valley. The area landward of the half tide jetty is a dredge spoil disposal site that was also designed to act as shoreline stabilization. However, the tidal flow and porous condition of the half-tide jetty prevent the material from remaining behind the jetty. 1.7 million dollars was appropriated in 1998 to address the jetty and the erosion problems at Sun Valley. The ACOE informed the State that before permits for any alterations or of the Hampton/Seabrook tidal estuary system. $400,000 was appropriated in FY2000 to allow the State to contract with UNH to conduct such a study and develop the hydrodynamic model. This hydro model was used in developing the “227 Project” referenced below.
River Street runs along the southern end of Seabrook Harbor. The Backwater River runs from Salisbury, Massachusetts and empties into Seabrook Harbor. The last portion of the Blackwater River has meandered for many years across the tidal clam flats called Middle Ground. Middle Ground abuts River Street. In recent years the Blackwater River had meandered very far to the southward and was undercutting the properties along River Street, creating the so-called “River Street cut”. Several emergency projects were accomplished with appropriations in 1998, 1999, and 2000 to attempt to stabilize the shoreline along River Street. Additionally, the material was being deposited in Seabrook and Hampton Harbors necessitating dredging on a nearly annual basis in order to keep the harbors open and useable. In 2004/2005 the ACOE constructed a “Section 227 Project” which was an experimental project to attempt stabilization of the Blackwater River and Middle Ground as well as River Street by closing the River Street cut. Two double walls of vinyl sheet pile were constructed at each end of the cut. The Blackwater River was then dredged in an effort to remove the damming material which was then placed between the two double walls, filling the cut. Recently the ACOE has observed a loss of some of the material between the walls and plan to place some of the dredge material there during the next dredge process.
Immediately upon completion of the 227 Project Hampton and Seabrook Harbors were dredged using $1,000,000.00 authorized by the Capital Budget Overview Committee for that purpose. 110,699 cubic yards of clean sand were removed and used on Hampton and Seabrook beaches as beach nourishment. The result of all this work is still being evaluated.
Rye Harbor is a man-made harbor and most of it is a Federal project maintained by the ACOE. It is bordered at the seaward limit by two breakwaters, one to the north and one to the south, each approximately 530 feet long and constructed in 1939. The Harbor is used extensively by local and transient recreational boaters, as well as commercial fishing and charter boats. The Federal Channel is 2,300 feet long, 100 feet wide and is 10 feet deep at the entrance of the harbor and 8 feet deep for the remainder. The anchorage area to the north is maintained at 6 feet and the anchorage area to the south is maintained at 8 feet. Rye Harbor does not require frequent dredging and has had very little done since its creation. Reports from the Rye Harbormaster, local fishermen, and recreational boaters indicate that there is some shoaling, particularly in the inner harbor at the outlet for the Aucomin Marsh. The ACOE confirmed this in a recent survey, conducted in August 2014. While they do not feel that dredging is warranted at this time, it is prudent to plan for the future need.
DISPOSAL SITES The ACOE maintains a number of New Hampshire’s tidal waters to ensure safenavigation.While some of the material dredged from these waters is suitable for beach
nourishment and/or in-river or near-shore disposal, much is not. For those dredged materials that are clean but not suitable for beach nourishment or in-river or near-shore
disposal, there are only two practicable methods of disposal: onshore and offshore.
Currently, New Hampshire does not have a designated onshore disposal site, and its primary offshore disposal location, the Cape Arundel disposal site, was closed in January 2010.
To address its future dredged material disposal needs, the Army Corps is developing a Regional Dredge Material Management Plan (DMMP). The DMMP is comprised of two components: a Comprehensive Upland Dredge Material Disposal Study (Upland Disposal Study) and an Ocean Disposal Site Designation Study (Ocean Disposal Study). Unfortunately no Federal funding has yet been identified for this effort.
The Upland Disposal Study involves continuation of a reconnaissance level study completed by the ACOE in 2005 that identified and provided first-tier screening of 100 potential sites (in New Hampshire) for upland disposal of dredged material. $250,000 for the study was appropriated by Congress in the 2004 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act. The reconnaissance level study was completed using approximately $91,000 of the $250,000 appropriation. The unexpended portion of the appropriation, $159,000, was reprogrammed to other ACOE projects with the expectation that it would be restored when needed. However, due to restrictions on the ACOE’s ability to restore reprogrammed funds, the remaining $159,000 of appropriated funds has not been restored.
The Ocean Disposal Study involves identifying and formally designating a new ocean disposal site. The Cape Arundel dredge material disposal site (CADS), located near Cape Arundel in York County, Maine, has been the primary ocean site for the placement of clean dredged material from the rivers and harbors of New Hampshire and southern Maine for over three decades. CADS was never been formally designated for use in accordance with the Marine Protection Research and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA) of 1972, and use of the site ceased in January 2010. In 2014 Congress passed legislation reopening CADS for limited use (no more than 80,000 CY per project), however, , its relatively small remaining capacity means that CADS is not a practicable option for meeting New Hampshire’s future offshore dredge material disposal needs. The first step toward meeting these needs is to initiate the process of identifying and designating a new ocean disposal site. Pursuant to EPA policy, an environmental impact statement (EIS) must be prepared to identify and designate offshore disposal sites. An EIS would need to look at the sources of dredged material in the region over at least a 20 year horizon, the quality of material, alternatives for disposal or use, and alternative ocean disposal sites. The ACOE estimates that scoping for the EIS will cost approximately $100,000. The Maine State Planning Office and New Hampshire Coastal Program are expected to be the study sponsors. Funding is not currently anticipated however, with the recent Congressional ban on “earmarks” an appropriation has not been requested of the Congressional Delegation. Cost sharing requirements for this study have not been determined but recent similar projects, Long Island Sound and Rhode Island Sound, were conducted at full Federal expense. Each of those projects cost several million dollars.
The ACOE estimates that preparation of a Regional Sediment Management Plan would cost approximately $900,000 and would take about two years to complete. This includes the screening phase of the upland disposal study ($200,000), completing that study as part of a broader dredged material management plan for New Hampshire rivers and harbors ($600,000), and scoping for an ocean disposal site designation study to replace the Cape Arundel Disposal Site ($100,000).
SUMMARY Statute currently requires that any applicant for a Dredge and Fill Permit from DES must pay a fee. The Division has a $10,000 cap on the required fee, which is otherwise assessed based upon the impact to the environment. Because it is necessary for the Division to match the ACOE funding in many dredge projects, a statutory change that would discontinue the practice of having one state agency pay such a large sum to another state agency might be well advised
Additional charts and documents are available at the Army Corps of Engineers New England District website at:
The Division of Ports and Harbors works closely with the Department of Environmental Services Wetlands Bureau, the Dredge Management Task Force (DMTF), and the other agencies with concerns and responsibilities in dredging.
The Division and the Wetlands Bureau have been working together to streamline the lengthy permitting process, anticipate environmental issues in order to better address them in a timely manner, and ensure the proper maintenance of the navigable waters of the State of New Hampshire. This process allows State and Federal resource agencies, working through the DMTF, to identify issues and respond without delaying the projects. It also allows for long-range permitting and prudent fiscal planning.