Schuylkill River dredging to re-start thanks to $13 million in federal funds

Dredging along the Schuylkill will help rowers and mitigate future flooding after a dispute with the Army Corps of Engineers halted the project in the fall of 2020.

Boathouse row along the Schuylkill River. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Boathouse row along the Schuylkill River. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The long-delayed dredging of the Schuylkill River will restart this summer thanks to $13 million in federal funds from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Rowers celebrated the announcement Monday near Philadelphia’s Boathouse Row, where Senator Bob Casey praised the city’s legacy of rowing, and the Biden Administration for negotiating the bipartisan infrastructure deal.

“This $13 million dollar investment is an investment in the people, the people of the City of Philadelphia,” said Casey. “The people of this city deserve this money. It’s long overdue that the federal government be a full partner on infrastructure, a full partner in the investments that the taxpayers of this city made possible.”

Casey said the Infrastructure Act will bring 30,000 jobs a year to the state for the next ten years. In addition to traditional infrastructure like roads and bridges, he says it will also invest in rivers and lakes.

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“This money for this dredging project will preserve the health of the river and make it more navigable so we can continue to see the benefits of all that happens behind me,” he said.

Rowers have long complained of dangerous conditions and the need to make the river deep enough to retain world-class regattas like the Dad Vail.

“We’re fortunate to have such a strong history of rowing here on the Schuylkill,” said Mayor Jim Kenney. “By investing in the river we are preserving our city’s history as the birthplace of American rowing.”

Kenney said the deepening would also help mitigate flooding, which is expected to be exacerbated by climate change. Remnants of Hurricane Ida brought severe flooding to the Schuylkill River last September, spilling over to surrounding neighborhoods and the Vine Street Expressway.

The troubled project to dredge three miles above the Fairmount Dam to the Strawberry Mansion Bridge began in the summer of 2020, funded originally by $4.5 million in donations raised by the Schuylkill Navy.

But it stalled after the contractor hired by the Army Corps of Engineers, Atlantic Subsea Inc of Bridgeport, NJ, became embroiled in a dispute with the Corps over challenges it says it faced dredging a river full of logs, telephone poles, and railroad ties. The Corps said the terms of the company’s contract made those issues clear.

In August 2020, flooding from Tropical Storm Isaias sent a barge used in the dredging operation crashing into the Vine Street Expressway. Atlantic Subsea halted dredging in November 2020 after the completion of just 5% of the project. The Army Corps of Engineers terminated the company’s contract in February 2021 and the issue remains in litigation.

The deepening project is expected to re-start its first phase along Boathouse Row with a new contractor in July. The Army Corps of Engineers says the dredge spoils will be taken to its site at Fort Mifflin, where berms will be in place to keep the untreated soil from seeping out into nearby waterways.

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