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Dredging river not a priority for city
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


Proposals to dredge the sediment piling up in the Rappahannock River from the Falmouth Bridge to City Dock have received more attention in recent months.

But the City Council has left the issue off its list of priorities for the next two years.

The council's top priority, announced last week, is developing plans for the 160-year-old circuit courthouse to be vacated when the new one is ready.

City businessman Charles G. McDaniel, who heads an informal committee supporting a river-dredging project, noted the omission on the council's to-do list.

"I've heard absolutely nothing. The only thing I know is what I read in the newspaper," McDaniel, who lives on the river in the city, said in a recent interview.

It's significant because any dredging project would need the participation of the city, Stafford County, which owns the river bottom up to the Fredericksburg shore, and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Dredging has been an on-again, off-again topic for more than a decade, particularly since the 1910 Embrey Dam was breached in February 2004.

The Corps of Engineers' Norfolk District office earlier this year said it would take another look at the problem--at sources of sediment in the river, solutions to stopping the material from reaching the Rappahannock in the first place, and ways to improve aquatic habitat. That effort was shelved, however, because city and agency officials could not agree on the scope of the review, and the city was unwilling to commit to sharing half the cost. About $191,000 in federal funds had been set aside for that study.


Meanwhile, the Corps of Engineers is working with the state on another study, looking at ecosystem restoration and flood management prospects along the entire Rappahannock watershed, Susan Conner, chief of the agency's planning and policy branch, said last week.

The 2.5-mile section of river from the Falmouth Bridge to City Dock, which has been the focus of local efforts, would be included within that basin-wide review.

"Over the next few months, we'll be developing a plan and final document. It would include the city, and potentially, if sediment is identified as a problem, it could be looked at," Conner said.

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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