SouthCoast Today – Our View: Dredge the Port of New Bedford to 30 feet

Fairhaven selectmen this week added their voices to the growing chorus looking for New Bedford Harbor to be dredged to its authorized depth.

Dredging to the authorized depth of 30 feet would open the port to more vessels and activity, and would allow the construction of more maritime infrastructure. It would bring millions of dollars of economic activity to the port and many hundreds of jobs. It could be undertaken cooperatively, so that state-authorized dredging and federal dredging for contamination and maintenance could enjoy efficiencies estimated to save about $10 million.

Despite federal programs to maintain ports like New Bedford’s, limited federal money presents a hindrance to their accomplishment. The commonwealth has picked up part of the effort.

Local legislators and public officials are right to raise their voices, knowing that 30-foot dredging hasn’t been done for 50 years. Every hint of momentum for greater economic activity acts as a prod to get more cargo ships, more docks, and new industries into port.

The only concern has been raised by Hands Across the River, which wants protections for people when sediment contaminated by PCBs is moved according to procedures being followed for Superfund dredging. A study released this winter, however, suggests that airborne PCB contamination around the Superfund site exists because of ambient emissions, not because it was disturbed during dredging. Nevertheless, HARC’s concerns aren’t to be casually dismissed.

Budget constraints never fail to change government’s plans, and we are far from confident regarding state revenue projections, which, as usual, continue to be estimated down. We understand those constraints and concerns, but because we do have confidence in the commonwealth to make wise decisions, we will urge the administration’s consideration of port issues — an undeniable priority, considering the lieutenant governor’s vigorous leadership of the Seaport Economic Council — to adjust its course enough to prioritize dredging of the rich, vibrant Port of New Bedford. The port is already delivering revenue to Boston beyond what one might expect from the population. Dredging will bring even more.