Officials: Dire need to dredge Seabrook Harbor

ANGELJEAN CHIARAMIDA/Staff Photo  Hours from low tide, sandbars begin to appear in Seabrook harbor. Officals are asking for help getting federal funds to dredge the harbor before it becomes unusable.

SEABROOK — The buildup of sand in Hampton/Seabrook Harbor has selectmen from both towns and state officials appealing to New Hampshire’s congressional delegation for help getting federal money to dredge.

Hampton/Seabrook Harbor has a history of shoaling, where waves create sandbars. The shoals are a hazard for boaters, especially at low tide, when a vessel might become grounded, causing damage to the boat and possible injuries to boaters.

The harbor is a busy place, home to the major portion of New Hampshire’s commercial fishing fleet and the only fishermen’s cooperative left in the Granite State. It has 20 party boats, seasonally offering recreational fishing excursions, and brings in tourism dollars.

But the harbor is in trouble, according to those who use it. Considered a vital part of the region’s economy, Hampton/Seabrook Harbor “is in desperate need of maintenance dredging,” according to the letter selectmen signed Monday written by the state Division of Ports and Harbors, which oversees the state’s harbors.

“While the need is most urgent on the Seabrook side, the entire harbor is seriously impaired,” the letter said. “If we are unable to dredge the harbor in the very near future it is in real danger of becoming unusable. This will result in the loss of hundreds of jobs to the area including the ancillary businesses.”

Dredging is nothing new for this harbor. The latest was from fall 2012 to spring 2013, when the Army Corps of Engineers removed 168,000 cubic yards of sand. The Corps has jurisdiction over all the nation’s harbors.

The letter is addressed to U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire’s senior senator, with copies to Sen. Maggie Hassan and U.S. Reps. Carol Shea-Porter and Ann Kuster, all Democrats. The goal of the letter is to get the project in the Army Corps’ budget.

Dredges have an environmental window of November through March. Yankee Fisherman’s Co-operative manager Red Perkins feels having anything done now may be unlikely. But dredging in the fall is critical, he said, because the shoaling is as bad as he’s ever seen it.

“The shoaling is so bad it’s made boat moorings useless; the balls are just sitting on the sandbars at low tide,” Perkins said. “The other day, we had a boat that only draws four feet of water go aground. It was at low tide, but you don’t see lobster boats get hung up like that.”

Perkins said while local commercial fishermen know the tides and the harbor’s trouble spots, unless dredging happens soon, the harbor will become so shallow it will be unnavigable even to veterans.

“The bigger party boats are the ones that will have the most trouble this summer,” Perkins said. “They’ll have to play the tides and get in and out an hour or two on either side of high tide.”

That can be dicey when high tide is early, he said.

“It’s pretty hard to tell tourists they’re going to have to show up for their fishing trip at 4 a.m.,” Perkins said.

According to the letter, the harbor supports the Yankee Co-op, with $3 million in revenues as well as 40 commercial fishing boats and 30 lobster boats, 20 party boats, a 144-slip marina, and the tug and barge outlets for NextEra Energy’s Seabrook nuclear power plant.

Angeljean Chiaramida can be reached at 978-961-3147, at achiaramida@newburyportnews.com, or follow her on Twitter @achiaramida1.

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