The St. Mary’s commissioners gave the green light Tuesday for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to restart its efforts to study and design a solution to shoreline erosion at the mouth of St. Jerome Creek.
The narrow channel in the southern part of the county that connects the creek and the Chesapeake Bay needs to be dredged every three to five years to mitigate navigation hazards that occur when the creek shoals. The county has been working with the corps since 2008 to determine how to build a jetty for the western Chesapeake Bay’s only designated safe harbor.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources determined that the creek had narrowed to 20 feet wide and to 4.2 feet deep at low tide, making it tricky for commercial boats to get in and out of the creek. Though it is a federal channel, the state and county foot the bill for the dredging. The creek was last dredged in early 2018 for $180,000, with the county paying $50,000.
Continuing the study is estimated at $335,300, with $167,650 in federal funds and $118,200 from the county, as well as $49,500 in “services credit” from the public works staff time, according to a memo, included in the county’s 2020 budget. The total study costs over $1 million, at a 50-50 federal and local funding split.
“I have sat here for years, we’ve been discussing St. Jerome Creek,” Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) said. “Seems to me we continue to study the evident problem. … As time moves on, Mother Nature’s gonna continue to do what she’s gonna do, and we’re gonna continue to study shifting sands.”
“I share your frustration. This is their third go-round,” John Deatrick, director of St. Mary’s County Department of Public Works and Transportation, said.
After a feasibility study in 2015, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had proposed two long jetties to prevent further shoaling at the mouth of the creek. However, there were issues with soil conditions and that work was estimated to cost $18 million, Zane Rettstatt, engineer with the county’s public works and transportation department, previously said. The federal program has a $10 million cap to fund construction of the project. The commissioners requested the Army corps consider other alternatives, but those proved to be too costly.
“Because their previous two concepts proved to be out of the acceptable budget range, the [Army corps] now needs a fresh authorization to proceed with their new concept,” Deatrick wrote in a memo.
The study should take between 12 and 15 months, according to a letter from the engineers corps. In the county’s capital budget, $12.1 million is currently reserved for the project’s construction, with the final cost contingent on the Army corps’ study.
The creek is used by the Ridge Volunteer Fire Department for water-rescue operations, is home to commercial marinas and serves between 300 and 400 homeowners who have piers, moors or boat slips there.
In other business, public works and the St. Mary’s County Department of Recreation and Parks were awarded a $60,000 state grant to study a design for mitigating shoreline erosion at Myrtle Point Park, which “has lost a substantial amount of beach area and property along the cliffs,” Deatrick wrote in a memo.
The commissioners also voted to move $980,856 from closed capital projects in 2019 to a reserve account, to be used for additional grant opportunities or other funding needs during fiscal 2020.