If you’ve been out on Neabsco Creek recently, you may notice “danger shoaling” signs have taken the place of channel markers.
In March, the U.S. Coast guard put them there, instead of navigational buoys, determining the creek had silted in to a level that was unsafe.
“If you’re driving down the highway, you expect the highway to continue, if the water way is not there, we have to say hey, we didn’t close the waterway but we have to say take caution.” explained CDR Charles J. Bright with the United States Coast Guard.
However, many local businesses and even the volunteer fire department that operates out of the creek fear, the “danger shoaling” signs, might as well read, “closed.”
There are three marinas that call the creek home. And recently, the fire department has been unable to take their boat out for rescues due to the fiasco. Although, it was taken out of the water temporarily for scheduled maintenance on Friday.
“Some boaters are concerned about going in, and out some boaters are concerned about coming in and getting fuel off the Potomac, some won’t call to be towed into the dock for repair.” said Woodbridge District Supervisor Frank Principi.
The Army Corps of Engineers surveyed the creek, and released their findings Thursday.
“The corps showed where we put our buoys… it’s three or less feet… we need by policy, 6 feet to place our buoys, to safely place them, to not sit in the mud.” explained Bright.
In 1998 the corps dredged the channel to 5 feet, but Bright said depth requirements for coast guard buoys have since changed.
“Bottom line, is basically everything is the same as it was yesterday.” said Terry Hill, owner of Hampton’s Landing Marina.
Hill noted there was one exception — now, the county is looking at solutions.
“This is a federally designated navigable waterway, where responsibility for dredging belongs solely with the corp of engineers, the responsibility for operating this channel lies solely with the U.S. Coast Guard. They’ve gotten together and decided that the depth is not safe for boaters… so we’ve asked the corp of engineers to dredge this channel and they’ve told us very clearly, ‘there is no funding.’”said Principi.
Bright said the issue is not isolated, waterways all over the region are silting in. His statement was similar to one an Army Corps of Engineers spokesperson gave WDVM last week. He also added that due to limited funds, the corps has to look at what waterways take priority — it’s easy to do as they’re sorted into categories. The criteria isn’t simple, but the biggest factor when categorizing a channel, is how much cargo it handles. Needless to say, Neabsco, which is predominately used for recreation, does not fall at the top of their list.
So, what’s next?
Since federal depth requirements are higher, an option discussed Thursday was having the state or a private entity take over navigation aids — meaning they would also assume liability for any accidents. Then, the county would fund its own dredging project estimated to cost at least $700,000 dollars. That way, boaters could still have channel makers, before it’s dredged, to meet federal requirements. In the interim, Principi believes the current depth is “safe,” for experienced boaters, exercising caution.
Of course, this is just the solution discussed. Nothing is set in stone. There will be another meeting next month to begin to solidify plans.