City needs to find $2.4M more for 'Squam dredging

MIKE SPRINGER/Staff file photo/The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will dredge shallow parts of the Annisquam River this year if the city of Gloucester can raise an additional $2.4 million for the work before October. 

The city has until Oct. 1 to raise $2.4 million to have any chance of starting the much-anticipated Annisquam River dredging project this year, according to the project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Erika Mark, the project manager, said the Army Corps has refrained from cancelling the project to give the city of Gloucester and its varied elected representatives — congressional and state — the opportunity to come up with the additional cash necessary to complete the bid process and begin dredging.

But, she said, the project would be cancelled for this dredging season and face another bid solicitation next year if the city cannot raise the additional $2.4 million necessary to fully fund the basic removal of about 140,000 cubic yards of sand from several shoaled areas of the river. The $5.4 million already on hand with the Army Corps would remain attached to the project.

"Right now, we can't award the project," Mark said. "If they don't come up with the additional funds, we'll cancel the (bid) solicitation and re-evaluate the project for a solicitation at a later date."

Mark said the current Army Corps budget does not currently include additional funds for the Annisquam project. 

The project, which the Army Corps estimated would cost just over $6 million, has long been on the wish list of city officials — especially first responders — to return the river to safe navigable depths and alleviate public safety and marine response concerns.

Portions of the river north of the MBTA Commuter Rail bridge and parts of the Lobster Cove anchorage now are so shallow that they cannot accommodate larger emergency vessels from the city or the Coast Guard.

Jim Destino, the city's chief administrative officer, said the city has met with state and federal representatives to identify potential money sources that could be accessed quickly. The clock, he conceded, is ticking.

"We're going down a number of different paths," Destino said Tuesday following a conference call updating stakeholders on the status of the project.

He said the city is in the process of filing an emergency application for the state's dredging program and, with the assistance of its State House delegation, is exploring legislative and executive options for closing the money gap.

Destino said the congressional delegation — with U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton as point person — has written letters to the Army Corps and other federal agencies requesting the additional money for the Annisquam project.

The Annisquam River Maintenance Dredging project, seven years in the works, appeared on track this summer even after it was extended over two dredging seasons. The extensions tended to concerns over impacts on the winter flounder fishery, as well as the lobstering industry during the late autumn and early winter.

Then the bids were opened on Aug. 2.

Only two companies — Salem-based Burnham Associates and Branford, Connecticut-based Coastline Consulting — bid on the project. And both were exponentially higher than the Army Corps estimate.

Burnham's total bid of $13,688,500 was more than double the Army Corps estimate. Coastline Consulting wasn't far behind at $11,404,525.

The disparity between the bids and the government estimate prompted the Army Corps to initiate an engineering review to determine what caused the sizable gap.

Mark said the review is not complete. But the Army Corps, she said, has identified two prime factors — lack of bidding competition and major discrepancies between the Army Corps and bidders over the type and costs of equipment needed for the project. 

Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT

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