Essex River Sunset and Great Blue Heron
Readers, what do you think?
December 27th Gloucester Daily Times letter to the editor from Elizabeth and Brad Story.
“To the editor:
Cape Ann folks should be aware of the fact that there is significant opposition to dredging the Essex River in town and it comes from local people who know the river best. Rather than celebrating a boondoggle like dredging, we ought to be mourning a body blow to an incredible local natural resource.
The reason the Essex River hasn’t been dredged since the ‘90s is that dredging:
— actually causes the river to fill in more quickly;
— is terrible environmentally, no matter where the dredge spoils are dumped;
— is a waste of money.
When the channel is dredged, the banks are steeper. More boats use the river at higher speeds and the wakes and turbulence from the boats causes the steeper banks to collapse. The collapsed bank material fills in the channel. Now the river is spread out over the tops of the old banks and more filling in occurs.
We have seen this over and over again. If you look at the time period between dredging projects in the 20th century you will see that the time gets shorter and shorter. This is because the dredging makes the river less deep over time.
In the 19th century hundreds of huge Gloucester fishing schooners, steamers and other large vessels were built and launched on the banks of the river and were brought downriver on successive tides. There was plenty of water for them in the basin where they were launched and the trip down river just had to be guided by someone who knew the river. Once steam tugs were available they didn’t even have to necessarily wait for more than one tide.
Harold Burnham, who brings the Schooner Ardelle up the river to his boatyard, and has brought other large vessels up the river many times, uses the same method today. It is not a problem. My family operated the Story Shipyard, where the Essex Shipbuilding Museum is now, for many generations and I did business there until 1985. I built and launched many boats there and sailed from there downriver to Ipswich Bay hundreds of times.
The only people who have a problem are people who want to zoom up the river to the restaurants or marinas, and don’t want to deal with the state of the tide or the shoal areas. The police chief/harbormaster, who has so far refused to dock his boat at Conomo Point where there is deep water on all tides, also wants dredging. Maybe we need a harbormaster who doesn’t have to do double duty as police chief and therefore doesn’t need to be close to his office in the center of town? Might this work better without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on harmful dredging?
The Coast Guard has always had a problem getting in the lower Essex River but dredging won’t affect that. The problem is the sandbars shifting across the mouth of the river and between the ends of Crane Beach and Coffin’s Beach each year. No amount of dredging will ever change that, nor is it intended to.
The main problem in the Essex River is not its shallow draft. It is people going way too fast in big, powerful boats. This is our public safety problem. We face it every time we try to go boating, especially on summer weekends.”
Read complete letter here.
Mouth of the Essex River, looking towards Cranes Beach, and Double-crested Cormorants