Officials: Little River dredging project will help local economy

A tugboat pushes a barge carrying a crane down Little Creek Friday ready for more dredging.  (Delaware State News photos by Dave Chambers)

A tugboat pushes a barge carrying a crane down Little River Friday ready for more dredging. (Delaware State News photos by Dave Chambers)

DOVER – Little River near Dover will soon be reborn.

A state-funded dredging of the river has begun by the Division of Watershed Stewardship.

Officials say the project will help stimulate the local economy and support public safety by enhancing boater access and improving navigation at low tides in the Little River.

The $1.01 million project includes dredging 79,000-cubic-yards of material from the channel and removing 30 derelict pilings and a derelict vessel from the waterway near Little Creek.

The channel is approximately 12,400 feet long and will be dredged to widths of 40 feet in the river portion and 60 feet in the Delaware Bay portion, and to a depth of 5 feet at average low tide.

A secondary benefit of the project, according to officials, is the use of dredged material to restore and enhance waterbird habitat within the nearby Division of Fish & Wildlife Little Creek Wildlife Area impoundment’s Refuge cell. That’s one of several cells comprising the impoundment divided by dikes to allow for separate management.

“This project will raise the water elevations,” said Jeremey Ashe, manager of the Delaware Bayshore Habitat Restoration Project.

A worker removes mud, old wooden boards and other materials from the bottom of Little River Friday morning.

A worker removes mud, old wooden boards and other materials from the bottom of Little River Friday morning.

“The beneficial reuse of dredging material is for habitat restoration. With our projects there’s a drought disposal site.

“The material that is pumped, as the soil will be used for various reasons.”

During the process a dredging machine will gather up bottom sediments from the river, which will eventually be channeled into the refuge impoundment cell.

Beneficial use material will increase bottom elevations within the impoundment cell to a level that promotes waterfowl and shorebird diverse habitat and food resources, offsetting sinking marsh elevations that have resulted in excessive open water habitat.

Impoundment water levels are seasonally managed to provide a variety of habitats to include mudflat habitats for migrating shorebirds and moist soil plants such as Walter’s millet and smartweed whose seeds are eaten by wintering waterfowl.

The current low impoundment elevations prevent proper water level management, resulting in minimal moist soil vegetation growth and seed production and a lack of habitat diversity.

“It’s like chocolate milk,” Mr. Ashe said. “If you ever make chocolate milk and let it sit, then all of the chocolate settles at the bottom. But it’s mostly milk that’s how this process works.

“The sediments get higher and the water level will get shallower. The only time anyone would be able to come in here would be at high tides, but now they’re dredging it deeper, so even at low tides you can get a boat in for safety reasons, hence the ramp.”

There are plans to construct a new boat ramp along Route 9, which will help improve response times for the Little Creek fire department’s maritime rescue unit, said Fire Chief Scott Bundek.

“It will be a great addition,” Chief Bundek said.

Currently, one boat is docked at Port Mahon, a 10-minute ride from the fire station. When needed, the department’s

Workers dredge Little River near Little Creek Friday morning,

Workers dredge Little River near Little Creek Friday morning,

other two boats also must be trailered to Port Mahon.

The department averages about 20 calls each boating season to help boaters in trouble, Chief Bundek said.

“It will be easier for us because it’s down the street from us,” Chief Bundek said. “We’ll be able response much quicker to certain situations.”

The project expected to be completed by Oct. 1.

Mr. Ashe said when it’s all said and done he would like to see more people utilize the river for recreation purposes.

“Hopefully, people will be able to fish and boat more,” Mr. Ashe said. “This used to be a big crabbing place and there’s an opportunity for that to happen again.”

Chief Bundek agreed.

“I lived in Little Creek my entire life,” he said. “We’re excited about the ramp for emergencies, but we’re more excited about the community being able to use it.

“It can be a good recreational place for us. That’s the best part about it.”

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