The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Wilmington District, has published a final “Deep Draft Environmental Assessment” and a “Finding of No Significant Impact describing the actions to eliminate the historic hopper dredging window and to add the bed leveling technique for maintenance of the outer portions of the Wilmington and Morehead City Harbors.
The traditional dredging window lasted from Dec. 1 through Apr. 15. The elimination of the window is initially limited to a 3-year period with monitoring efforts planned to be accomplished by the Corps of Engineers in partnership with state and federal agencies.
The Corps of Engineers say that a risk-based management approach will be implemented for future maintenance, increasing dredging flexibility while collecting and assessing data to make informed decisions on timing and dredging equipment in the future. They say this will improve navigability and safety for commercial vessels calling on the Ports while also protecting resources of concern.
“It is important to note that this is not a static three-year period,” said Colonel Benjamin Bennett, Wilmington District Commander. “During the three-year period, adjustments will be made based on working groups with state and federal agencies. The idea of a 3-year period was developed in collaboration with our partners including the North Carolina Division of Coastal Management and the National Marine Fisheries Service.”
Due to the dynamic nature of coastal environments, evaluating environmental windows on a regular basis so adjustments can be made are aimed to protect the most at-risk resources.
The Corps of Engineers say that a risk-based approach will allow them to be protective of at-risk resources by using the latest information and experience to inform decisions about the timing of dredging, equipment types or impact minimization measures. This will allow the Corps to better balance environmental concerns while adequately maintaining Wilmington and Morehead City Harbors.
The draft Environmental Assessment was circulated to Federal and State agencies and the public on Aug. 19, 2020. The FONSI discusses and responds to comments received during the 45-day review of that draft.