Lewes-Rehoboth Canal not on dredging list

Indian River and five other coastal Sussex County waterways are on DNREC schedule
September 17, 2021

Several dredging projects are scheduled in eastern Sussex County over the next one to three years. 

They include Indian River in the Millsboro area and Indian River marina, late 2022 into 2023; Holt's Landing State Park ramp, late 2022; Assawoman and loop canal, late 2022 into 2023; South Bowers jetty, late 2023 into 2024; and Assawoman Canal, planning, engineering and design in 2023.

What's not included on the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control list is dredging of the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal, a channel that links Delaware Bay and Rehoboth Bay. The canal not only provides access for recreational boaters, but also is a vital link to the bay and ocean for many commercial fishing and touring vessels.

According to Rep. Steve Smyk, R-Lewes, while the canal is not on the list, the waterway has been designated a high priority.

Smyk and other legislators, as well as local boaters and sailors, were making a push to get the canal dredged back in 2016, but were hampered by a change in policy shifting responsibility from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to state officials for dredging of shallow-draft port waterways. At that time, it was estimated the project would cost at least $2.4 million.

“DNREC puts a high priority on maintenance dredging of the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal, reflecting the canal’s popularity among recreational boaters, and the importance of it connecting the Inland Bays with Delaware Bay,” said Michael Powell, DNREC Shoreline and Waterway Management section administrator. “However, the large footprint of the dredging needed, as well as limited sediment-disposal options, continue to be significant challenges for DNREC on this project.”

Powell said while federal funding for maintenance dredging of federally authorized navigational channels in coastal Delaware has become increasingly scarce, DNREC officials have been engaged in a coordinated effort with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers concerning the potential for federal participation in maintenance dredging.

Smyk said the state’s current bond bill includes $15 million to address a backlog of dredging projects statewide.

While portions of the 10-mile canal have been dredged since 2002, that was the last year major federal-funded dredging of the channel took place, Powell said. The Lewes Yacht Club budgets funds to dredge its marina at the end of the canal at Roosevelt Inlet, and the City of Lewes funds dredging of its dockage area in Lewes Harbor.

The canal, part of the intracoastal waterway, was authorized in 1912 by the U.S. River and Harbor Act. Digging began Nov. 5, 1913, and the first boat passed through Oct. 8, 1916. The canal was officially completed in 1918.


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