The long-sought dredging of portions of the Annisquam River to allow vessels to safely navigate the full channel is set to begin this fall — possibly as soon as the first two weeks in November, according to the Army Corps of Engineers and city officials.
The Army Corps of Engineers, which is managing the work, on Wednesday said the $7.85 million contract to remove 140,000 cubic yards of sand to eliminate natural obstructions such as shoals was awarded to Coastline Consulting and Development of Branford, Connecticut, on Oct. 10.
In an email, Tim Dugan, spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers' New England District, said the dredging will commence this fall and take a total of five to six months over two dredging fall-winter seasons. Under that timeline, the projected completion date is Feb. 15, 2021.
"The project consists of maintenance dredging of approximately 140,000 cubic yards of sand to remove shoals from the channel, and part of the Lobster Cove anchorage, with placement of the dredged material at the Ipswich Bay Nearshore Disposal Site and the Gloucester Historic Disposal Site," Dugan wrote.
Jim Destino, Gloucester's chief administrative officer, was more specific on the work timeline. Destino said the city expects the contractor to be on site around Nov. 10.
"We have to give special thanks to Gov. (Charlie) Baker and Lt. Gov. (Karyn) Polito for all that they did to help us keep the project on track," Destino said. "We also want to thank our congressional delegation, particularly Rep. Seth Moulton."
Destino said city Harbormaster T.J. Ciarametaro and the Coast Guard have identified priority areas in the northern stretch of the river that will be dredged first, returning them to safe navigable depths to alleviate public safety and marine-response concerns.
Ciarametaro and other city officials have pointed out that portions of the river north of the MBTA Commuter Rail bridge and parts of the Lobster Cove anchorage have become so shallow that they cannot accommodate larger emergency vessels from the city and Coast Guard.
"We've already removed about 95 percent of the moorings that need to be moved and the remainder should be removed by the end of this week," Destino said.
Portions of the Annisquam were last dredged in 1976 and the city worked for more than seven years to secure approval and funding from the Army Corps of Engineers for the the current project.
Last June, Moulton's office announced the Gloucester project was included in the Army Corps' 2018 work plan, along with a $6 million grant to pay for it.
City officials were jubilant and remained so even after concerns over impacts on the commercial lobster industry and the winter flounder habitat during the late autumn and early winter pushed the dredging schedule over two seasons.
Then came the crusher.
The Army Corps on Aug. 2 opened two bids for the contract — from Coastline Consulting and Salem-based Burnham Associates — and both were exponentially higher than the Army Corps of Engineers's estimate of just over $6 million.
Burnham's bid of $13,688,500 was more than double the Army Corps's estimate. Coastline's bid of $11,404,525 also provided a measure of sticker shock.
Suddenly, the city was scrambling to find an additional $2.4 million that at least would fund the essential maintenance dredging and allow the project to commence this fall.
City officials, with the assistance of the Baker administration and state Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr of Gloucester, put the full-court press on the state to determine whether it could close the shortfall. It also enlisted the aid of its congressional delegation, with Moulton doing much of the heavy lifting in dealing with the Army Corps.
Salvation finally arrived in early October in the form of a $2 million grant from the state and additional funds from the federal government that allowed the Army Corps to once again greenlight the project.
Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT