Completion of White Creek Priority Dredging Project Delayed Until Fall, 2023
Due to contractor delay, the White Creek priority dredging project in Sussex County will not be completed this season. The project was initially scheduled for completion March 31 to comply with existing seasonal dredging restrictions established to protect wildlife and natural resources. Although dredging was scheduled to begin in early 2023 to avoid any conflict with these environmental restrictions, the project contractor delayed the start of dredging for more than four weeks, pushing the completion date beyond the scheduled deadline. According to DNREC, dredging will still proceed until the March 31 cutoff and then resume in the fall.
Additional Information from DNREC:
“All dredging permits require that this Department work within windows that are protective of marine wildlife, and adhering to and abiding by those restrictions is incumbent upon us as a natural resource and environmental agency,” said DNREC Secretary Shawn M. Garvin. “But let me be clear: DNREC would not be bringing this project to a halt for at least the next six months had the contractor not failed to get it under way in time to complete it. DNREC is not in this position for lack of a timetable being written into the contract, or for lack of our following up with the contractor to let them know that they were not meeting contractual obligations.”
Secretary Garvin also said DNREC’s Shoreline and Waterway Management Section is working to develop a solution that will enable DNREC to complete as much of the project as possible before the March 31 cutoff, while reiterating that the restrictions are in place to ensure the continued enjoyment of outdoor recreation and natural resources by current and future generations of Delawareans and the state’s coastal visitors.
The White Creek dredging project encompasses a portion of the Assawoman Canal. Both waterways have been at the top of DNREC’s prioritized list for dredging since 2020, when the maintenance dredging of a third Sussex waterway, Massey’s Ditch, was completed. After DNREC’s announcement of the project last December, Sussex County Council approved a cooperative agreement with DNREC to contribute $1 million toward the $4.685 million cost of the White Creek project, with the remainder to be paid by the State of Delaware and DNREC.
The DNREC Division of Fish and Wildlife places certain environmental restrictions on the State’s waterways to ensure the continued enjoyment of outdoor recreation and natural resources by current and future generations of Delawareans and the State’s coastal visitors. As a result, dredging projects may not be performed during certain windows of wildlife activity in the waterways, and the project contractor was made aware of this at the time of bidding. A section of the Assawoman Canal – 1,200 linear feet – was dredged before the February 28 cutoff in that waterway for environmental restrictions, as was a high-traffic boating area where White Creek meets the Assawoman Canal. Boaters are advised to continue to exercise caution in the area because shoals may shift during the summer boating season, DNREC Shoreline and Waterway Section administrator Jesse Hayden said. On March 1, the contractor moved their equipment to the western prong of White Creek, to be followed by dredging of the waterway’s eastern prong, with both expected to be completed by the March 31 environmental restriction deadline for White Creek.
Hayden noted the delayed start to the project means that a span of White Creek will not be improved by maintenance dredging for the coming recreational boating season. He said DNREC’s Shoreline and Waterway Management Section will share updated channel depth data (for informational purposes only, not to be used for navigation) after the dredging project pauses at de.gov/whitecreek.
“DNREC reminds all boaters to exercise caution and to keep boating safety in mind for themselves and others when using any waterway with shallow depths, including the unimproved span of White Creek,” Hayden said.