A project 13 years in the making begins Monday, Oct. 29, when the dredging process to deepen the Housatonic River to a minimum depth of 14 feet starts at the mouth of the waterway.
It'll take about 27 days to remove some 50,000 cubic yards of silt from the shallowest parts of the boat channel leading up to the Devon Bridge, according Bill Rock, chairman of the Waterfront and Harbor Management Commission.
Rock said though most of the boat channel between Milford and Stratford has a depth of 18 feet or more, there are spots where the depth has decreased to two or three feet and these areas have created "a menace" for boaters.
"It's for safe navigation," Rock said of the $750,000 dredging project funded by the state Department of Transportation. "By going to 14 feet we can handle the traffic. If we don't do it, it can become a major problem. The river would silt into Milford."
The Housatonic was last dredged in 1976 when 215,000 cubic yards of silt was dug up and deposited at Short Beach. This time around the silt -- which Rock said has been tested by federal environmental agencies and labeled "98 percent pure sand suitable for beach nourishment" -- will be dropped at Long Beach. The new sediment will in part help slow erosion, Rock said.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, aboard a dredging vessel called the Currituck, will operate 24 hours a day for 27 days straight starting on Monday, said Rock. He doesn't anticipate any major disturbances for those residents whose homes abut the waterway.
"It's primarily the sound of water rushing," he said.
That sound will be sweet music for Rock and the Stratford Waterfront and Harbor Management Commission, which started coordinating a Housatonic River dredge in 1999.
"There's no schedule for dredging," Rock said of larger projects like the Housatonic. So in order to get the work going, one has to go through a bureaucratic process that can, as Rock realized, take years. In addition to a boatload of paperwork, rigorous environmental testing had to be done to obtain permits from state departments.
But now that there is a model for dredging the Housatonic, Rock hopes the project can eventually expand north of the Devon Bridge.
"We'd like to continue with the concept of maintenance dredging," Rock said. "We have a means now, a system in place tailored to the Housatonic River."