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Officials push for harbor dredging
Two tropical storms that brushed Glynn County this past spring pushed tons of silt into Brunswick's shipping channel that will cost millions of dollars to remove.

Billy Birdwell, public affairs specialist for the Army Corps of Engineers in Savannah, said Tropical Storm Alberto, which never made landfall but passed the Golden Isles over the Atlantic Ocean, and Tropical Storm Beryl, which made landfall, deposited large amounts of silt into the entrance channel of the outer harbor.

The corps has requested $4 million to repair the damage, Birdwell said.

It's not going to get that much, though.

"At the current time, the district is planning to receive only $2.9 million for fiscal year 2013 to operate and maintain Brunswick Harbor," Birdwell said.

The federal government's new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

Nathan Sparks, director of the Brunswick and Glynn County Development Authority, said the damage only confirms the importance of properly maintaining the outer harbor.

Dredging to maintain the outer harbor at a 36-foot depth, necessary to accommodate the car carrying vessels that call on Colonel's Island, was suspended in April following the deaths or injuries of at least nine turtles. Dredging operations were the suspected culprit.

It will be months before the work is restarted. Birdwell expects outer harbor dredging to continue sometime in January or February.

"That is when the turtles usually are not there," he said.

The project's delayed restart date is not the only problem. The $2.9 million the corps is getting to undo the damage caused by tropical storm activity will not be enough to keep the harbor operating at its best, local officials say.

"Funding should really be around $6 million or $7 million," Sparks said.

He said Rep. Jack Kingston, R-1, has been asking for more funding, but he is not the only member of Congress whose district includes a port with a hand out in Washington.

"There are a lot of ports in this country and many are in a similar situation," Sparks said. "We know those conversations are taking place at the highest federal level."

Port maintenance is supposed to be paid for by the harbor maintenance trust fund set up by the federal government in 1987. Tax money produced by ports around the country contributes to the fund, but much of the more than $1.3 billion produced annually has been used in the general fund.

Sparks said the Port of Brunswick, one of the biggest economic engines in Glynn County, contributes around $8 million a year to the trust fund, making the $2.9 million allocated for next fiscal year frustrating.

He hopes discussions about channeling more money from the fund to harbor maintenance will continue and progress is made at the end of this year's election cycle.

"It is in our best interest to continue to beat that drum," he said. "I am optimistic it will pay off eventually."

Even with limited funding, Birdwell said maintenance dredging in the inner harbor, which consists of the East and South Brunswick rivers, should begin as early as August or September.

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