Cash infusion means deeper dredging at Neabsco Creek. Did local leaders give the feds a free pass?

WOODBRIDGE — Leaders voted Tuesday to take the dredging of Neabsco Creek deeper.

The Prince William County Board of Supervisors authorized the dredging of public boat fairways that lead to the ramps used to put-in boats into the creek at the confluence of the Potomac River in Woodbridge. The additional cost brings the total for the project approved last fall to just under $1 million.

The state is expected to reimburse the county $57,500 of the cost to dredge, under a plan approved January 22. Last fall, the Supervisors approved $750,000 in county funds to dredge the creek down to five feet after the U.S. Coast Guard closed the channel, preventing boaters access to the creek from the Potomac River.

The additional funds will allow dredging crews to dig the channel down to a Coast Guard recommended six feet, as well as dredge fairways leading to the public boat ramps. The state funds should be in the county’s hands by the end of February, about 15 days after the federal government mandates dredging work end February 15 to avoid disturbing the upcoming fish spawning season.

“It all equates to mud,” said Robert Hart, owner of EZ Cruz Marina, one of the four marinas that operate on the channel providing fuel and storage slips for boaters. “…how many cubic yards of it we can move.”

Cruz, and the Supervisors who voted to front the additional funds all agree that reopening the channel is important for tourism and placemaking. Essentially, they argue, people come to Prince William County to access the river.

“People who keep boats here live in far away counties, like Fauquier,” said Hart. “The property values on Neabsco Road [the street leading to the marina] are higher because people want to live by the water.”

Gainesville District Supervisor Peter Candland last June voted to approve the initial funding of the $750,000 for the dredging. The funds went to the county’s Industrial Development Authority to pass along to Neabsco Dredging, LCC — a company formed by the area affected marina owners impacted by the Coast Guard closure of the channel.

This time, he didn’t and argued the county was stepping into the fund a fix for a problem that in the past has been funded by the Federal Government. “I’m going to be on the losing end of this vote, so. You’re going to have to listen to me,” he said.

The Federal Government picked up the tab for dredging last time, about 20 years ago, said Hart. This time, coupled with the county funds, elected state officials like State Senator Scott Surovell (D-36, Fairfax, Stafford, Woodbridge) and Delegate Luke Torian helped to secure state funds for the project after the feds ignored the problem.

Earlier in the month, Prince William County Deputy County Executive Chris Price told Supervisors that there was a potential cost saving for the project if the county agreed to approve the additional funding, asserting more could be done for potentially less money, as part of a package deal with a new agreement to dredge the fairways.

“We’re spending taxpayer money,” said Candland. “Whether or not it’s state or county money — it’s taxpayer money,” he added, as the only dissenting vote on the Board.

Price told Supervisors any unspent project funds would be used to reimburse the county.

Candland said he is also worried that now the county and state have stepped up to fund waterway maintenance, a precedent has now been set that allows the federal government to abdicate the dredging responsibility to local leaders.

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