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Harbor Dredging to Finish Around June 9th

Hannah Colton/KDLG

Harbor master Jean Barrett thinks the warm winter made the harbor muddier than usual this year. 

Maintaining a passable harbor is an annual battle against the elements. At the center of that struggle is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ dredger, which has been working in the Dillingham harbor since early May. In another week their work here will be done… for now. KDLG’s Hannah Colton has this update.

Audio transcript: 

Second only to the Anchorage harbor, Dillingham is already one of the biggest dredging efforts the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers takes on each spring. Harbor master Jean Barrett says the dredgers will remove even more mud than usual this year.  

“In the past, we’ve seen numbers between 90-100,000 cubic yards of material. This year they’re anticipating pumping around 133,000 cubic yards.”

Barrett thinks all this extra mud in the harbor might be caused by this year’s mild winter.

“My theory anyhow, is that winters have been mild. And when we have cold winters, the silt tends to stay where its set, and when its warm it stays suspended in the water and it’s able to move and fill in the low spots, and our harbor is one of the low spots…. So when it’s warm, we end up with more mud.”

Whether it’s a warm or cold winter, come May, the harbor has to be dredged to make way for boats.

And what happens with the mud has been a matter of debate recently.

Right now, it gets deposited back out into the river.

"I call it a recycling program because it just comes back into the harbor at some point.”  

Years ago the mud from dredging was dumped on-land to become the PAF Boatyard and tank farm.

Barrett and others in town want to see development like that again.

"We’d like to go north of the harbor, across Kanakanak Road, or across Bristol Alliance road to the west. The north is Choggiung Tribal property and the property to the west is City of Dillingham."

But moving all the material and covering it with gravel is expensive. If no one comes up with that money, the mud will continue to be pumped back into the bay through 2029.

The dredging process takes about a month. They start at the south end, working their way around the east side of the harbor.

"They pump the harbor down to minus 2 all the way around, that’s two feet below sea level – so we always have water in here. In one month, almost to the day every year, you’ll start seeing mud again at a zero tide. So it moves in quickly when it’s got space."

They plan to finish up by June 9th. The floats and ramps will follow their progress.  

Contact the author at hannah@kdlg.org.