Intracoastal waterway in Georgia Remains nearly impassable

Although the article below was written in 2008 , it still holds true.

The amount of federal money allocated to repair Georgia’s ailing segment of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway will pay for little more than a study to confirm the obvious – that the waterway needs to be dredged – and to spray for mosquitoes, the director of an advocacy group for waterway users says.

Meager funding for the waterway in the 2009 federal budget indicates that the condition of the waterway will not be a top concern when Congress reconvenes in January, either, said Rosemary Lynch, executive director of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway Association.

About $32 million worth of maintenance is needed to keep the waterway open and safe for boaters, Lynch said. Overall, the 2009 budget allots only $5.8 million for maintenance of the fi ve-state network of protected bays, rivers and canals that runs from Virginia into Florida.

As it now stands, the Georgia portion of the waterway will receive only about $500,000 in 2009, with funding for 2010 shaping up to be an even bleaker, Lynch said. “Of course, things could change between now and then, but realistically, it’s not looking good at all,” Lynch said.

The only section of the waterway that received funding for dredging was at Jacksonville. The money designated for Georgia will go toward survey work and “maybe to spray for mosquitoes,” Lynch said. “That’s enough money to do, well, nothing,” she said. “It will be used to send out a boat of surveyors who will say, yes, the waterway needs to be dredged.”

Lynch and the association have been working for a decade to secure extra funding for dredging and general repairs for sections of the waterway. She estimates that in Georgia, where dredging is most needed to maintain passable depths, about $5 million to $6 million is needed. “That’s not much at all, not when compared with other government projects,” Lynch said.

Added spending would benefit not only the waterway, but also unemployed individuals in communities along it. An allocation of $1 billion for dredging of the entire waterway would create about 140,000 jobs, plus an untold number of jobs for businesses linked to the waterway, Lynch said. “This would be an investment in community, not just the waterway,” she said.

If additional funding is not appropriated to the waterway in coming years, Lynch fears the waterway will become impassable and have to be shut down. To avoid that situation, Lynch is calling on members of the waterway association and individuals in communities along the waterway to make their voices heard, by contacting their congressional representatives to ask for more funding.

Lynch also hopes that Congress will create a waterway commission, composed of members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which maintains the waterway, and business owners linked with the waterway, to change how the system in managed.

Rather than each state overseeing its portion of the waterway through the corps, she proposes that a single group watch out for it as a whole. “We need people to take a stand. We need one group overseeing the waterway and simplify the process,” Lynch said.

“Otherwise, if things don’t change in the next two or so years, there is a very real danger of the waterway becoming impassable.”