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Dredging river not a priority for city page 2
River sediment removal not a priority for City Council

 Upstream from the Chatham Bridge, silt is narrowing the Rappahannock River and creating vast shoals along the shore on the Fredericksburg side.
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Date published: 11/27/2012


In April, Claude Shaffer, who is retired and lives in Stafford County, proposed removing more than a million cubic yards of silt in the five-mile stretch from the Falmouth Bridge to Fredericksburg Country Club. He estimated that it would take more than three years to remove that massive amount of material. An average-size dump truck can haul about 5 cubic yards.

Shaffer said he and a Tennessee-based partner, who is in the dredging business, would remove the silt and sell the sand and gravel to cover their costs and make a profit.

But they would have to clear some steep regulatory hurdles before any work could be done, a process that could take years.

Then in August, the informal committee headed by McDaniel announced its effort to gain support for a dredging project. Backers contend that the silt is harming the river ecosystem and is bad for business because it detracts from the Rappahannock's scenic beauty and limits recreational use. The City of Fredericksburg tour boat still uses City Dock in warmer seasons, but silt has made its operations more difficult.

The committee in August organized a canoe trip in the heavily silted river section for local officials to see the problem firsthand. Three City Council members went along on the outing.

As discussions on what, if anything, to do about the sediment buildup continue, more information is emerging on the source of the material. The sandlike deposits have collected on the river bottom below the fall line and created vast shoals along the shore.


In a draft report to the City Council last year, consultant Resource International Ltd. says the silt accumulation is the result of several natural forces in tandem.

"The river near the city is currently over-wide relative to the size of its watershed, the water slope, flow, and the sediment load that is generated by its watershed," according to Resources International's draft report.

It goes on to say that silt has virtually filled in the channel, due to a lack of flow needed to push the material downriver.

That is likely to continue until the silt reaches a state of equilibrium, creating a much narrower channel, it suggests. This raises questions as to whether dredging would be effective, or even necessary.

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The Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg was last dredged in 1950, when barges were still making stops here.

The Army Corps of Engineers has studied the silt buildup on several occasions, in 2001, 2004 and 2006. More recently the corps has had discussions with city officials about addressing the problem.

Earlier this year, plans for another sediment study fell through when city officials couldn't agree in a cost-sharing agreement with the Corps of Engineers.

The Army's latest plan is for a study of ecosystem restoration, flood control and related issues that would include the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg.

Meanwhile, the city is working with a consultant, Resource International Ltd., on riverfront restoration and erosion issues. The company submitted a draft analysis last year.

--Army Corps of Engineers, Fredericksburg Department of Public Works