Polito hopes dredging can begin “in the near future”

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito left SouthCoast last week with the notion that the region has the ability to become a juggernaut within the “blue economy.”

The city’s port recently ranked as the most valuable in the country for the 17th consecutive year.

But there’s more room to grow.

“Dredging really activates the rest of the waterfront,” Executive Director of the Harbor Development Council Ed Anthes-Washburn said. “And it maintains what we have. If we’re not able to dredge, then the port shuts down because you can’t get a boat to the dock.”

Polito finished her visit to New Bedford with a ribbon-cutting ceremony for State Pier’s new refrigeration installation. It also allowed for time to discuss the port’s need for dredging.

“We’re working with the city officials here in New Bedford to determine the phases that will be needed in order to properly dredge this port,” Polito said.

Three years ago the state set aside $35 million to continue with Phase V dredging of the port. Three years later, the need remains.

“There are dredging dollars designated now through our MassWorks program,” Polito said. “And from that analysis and continued discussions with the city, we will get to a place where we can begin some work in the near future.”

The federal channel, which is maintained by the Army Corp of Engineers, hasn’t been dredged since the 1950s. The rest of the port was last dredged in 2014. The $7 million project increased the depth 4 feet to 28.5 feet. However, to be authorized by the federal government, the average depth during low tides is required to be 30 feet.

The $35 million set-aside is the estimated cost for dredging the federal channel and complete Phase V dredging in the harbor. Completing the projects together is more cost effective than handling each separately.

In past dredging projects, the state has covered 80 percent of the cost and private corporations made up for the remainder.

“I look forward to the next round of discussions with the Baker-Polito administration about how state funding for berth dredging will unlock private investment and job opportunities in the Port of New Bedford,” Mayor Jon Mitchell said. “With clear channels to key waterfront sites, the port would be able to compete more effectively in the fishing, cargo and offshore wind industries for years to come.”

In September, the City Council unanimously passed a written motion pressing the state’s legislative delegation, U.S. Rep William Keating and Gov. Charlie Baker to appropriate the funding so that dredging could begin.

Phase V dredging involves about 25 docking areas. Some are in use and some aren’t. When dredged, the available water space would lead to nearly 400 direct jobs in the harbor and nearly 900 total, according to analysis conducted by Martin Associates.

The same study showed the dredging would lead to more than $250 million in business revenue and $11.5 million in state and local taxes.

“There’s companies that needed it yesterday. So certainly the need is there,” Anthes-Washburn said. “I think there’s a lot of pent up demand. We’re just trying to make that story clear. Moving forward, we want to work with the administration to get the project moving as quick as possible.”

Follow Michael Bonner on Twitter @MikeBBonnerSCT.

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