Cheesequake Creek dredging gets $4 million in federal funding
After years of pleading with government officials to have the Cheesequake Creek dredged, Sayreville and Old Bridge marina owners’ efforts have finally paid off.
New Jersey Democratic Sens. Cory Booker and Bob Menendez and Democratic U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., 6th District, announced Friday the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has allocated $4.1 million in federal funding for the dredging.
The announcement comes after the federal lawmakers urged the Army Corps to support the project, citing the adverse impacts on navigation, safety and the local economy resulting from the lack of maintenance dredging for decades, they said in a statement.
MyCentralJersey reported on the marina owners’ push for the dredging March 2019.
"It's been a long time coming," said Theresa Lockwood, who along with her siblings, co-owns Lockwood Boat Works in Sayreville. The family-owned business has been operating for more than 70 years.
"We're finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel," Lockwood said. "We've been losing customers and pray that this will be a turnaround as far as customers coming back and enjoying the marina. There are several other marinas, too, that have lost customers and we're looking forward to the project starting and having much more accessibility to the Raritan Bay."
Lockwood said marina owners are hoping to work with the Army Corps on the project’s plans as it moves forward.
"Based on information we've received, they anticipate the project will begin at the end of the summer season or early next year," she said.
Cheesequake Creek, a shallow-draft recreational channel, serves as an inlet from the Raritan Bay for hundreds of recreational vessels that use the five public marinas on the creek.
In recent years, sediment deposition in the creek has dramatically increased, impacting navigation, safety and overall usage of the channel. The problem was exacerbated by Superstorm Sandy in 2012, resulting in large amounts of sediment being deposited in the waterway and further impacting its depth.
The last maintenance dredging of the creek was performed in 1989 by the state, but no further maintenance has been performed in the last three decades. The Army Corps estimates that there are currently between 6,000 and 6,500 cubic yards of sediment required to be dredged to meet that authorized depth.
Only one side of the channel is passable for boats needing to clear a jetty and two bridges, which has resulted in damage and collisions.
“All of the marinas are suffering due to the shoaling of the channel," Lockwood said in an interview with MyCentralJersey last year.
Lockwood said sailboat owners have an extremely limited time frame during which they can use their boats because they need to enter and exit the channel during high tide, which is every 12 hours.
"They have to stay out for 12 hours rather than take a quick sail and come back," Lockwood said.
She also said because of shoaling, which builds sand and creates shallow waters, boaters must stay to one side of the channel during low tide.
"Exiting the channel to the bay, you need to stay left," she said. "Coming back to the dock, you need to stay to the right. It's very difficult to navigate the channel during low tide and as time goes by it's getting more difficult as a result of the lack of maintenance."
Lockwood's isn’t the only marina impacted. Others include Brown’s Boat Yard and Morgan Marina, both in Sayreville, and Raritan Marina in the Laurence Harbor section of Old Bridge.
"Boaters are leery of the fact that the front of the inlet is shallow at low tide," Joseph Walter said in an interview last year. Walter, along with his siblings, owns Morgan Marina.
Funding for the project was included in the Operation and Maintenance Budget for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ FY2020 Work Plan. The project competed for funding against dozens of shallow-draft navigation projects nationwide.
“I am thrilled we were able to secure this critical funding to dredge and properly maintain Cheesequake Creek, which we know will benefit the local economy and recreational users for years to come,” Booker said in a statement. “I’ve heard directly from marina owners, boaters, and local small businesses whose use and enjoyment of the creek has been negatively impacted by its shallow waters. Now that these funds have been secured, I’m hopeful that the Army Corps will work diligently to see the dredging through so the community can finally benefit from the creek’s full potential.”
“This funding is long past due and I’m glad the Army Corps has recognized the urgent need to allocate resources to get this project started,” Menendez said. “For too long, marinas in the area have been losing business because boats can’t navigate the extremely low tides. Once this project is completed, maritime traffic will be able to resume normal flow, and it’ll boost the local economy, while ensuring the safety of boaters, marina crews and the surrounding environment.
“This funding is great news for New Jersey and will greatly improve the ability of boaters to access and enjoy Cheesequake Creek and the Raritan Bay,” Pallone said. “Efficient and safe waterways are critical for New Jersey’s economy, and this funding will make sure that the marinas, boaters, and fishing industry can operate effectively."
“The local boaters and business owners have been calling for the dredging of the creek for quite some time, and now the process to restore Cheesequake to its former glory will begin," Sayreville Mayor Victoria Kilpatrick said. "It has been far too long since individuals have been able to fully enjoy the waterway, and businesses have been negatively impacted. The funding that has been secured for the project will provide much needed relief and will allow our businesses to bounce back for the benefit of boaters and the entire community of Sayreville. The time to get the job done is finally here.”