STAMFORD – Silt had so accumulated around Cove marina that people with small boats launched them by walking them to deeper water.
People with larger boats could leave and enter the marina only at high tide.
There was a fear that the municipal marina would become unusable.
Cove marina and the adjacent Stamford Harbor channel had needed dredging for years, but in 2012 Superstorm Sandy, one of the most destructive Atlantic hurricanes on record, made things significantly worse.
Strong storm surges pushed silt and sand toward the shore, further clogging the channel and mounding near the boat ramp in Cove marina.
Now, after all the years, a contractor is not only retrieving sand from one of the choke points but, because it’s contaminant-free, spreading it on nearby Quigley Beach, which badly needed replenishing.
“This is a fantastic project – using dredge material to nourish the beach. It’s the way things should work in a perfect world,” Damian Ortelli, chairman of the Stamford Harbor Management Commission, said during this month’s meeting of the Board of Representatives’ Parks & Recreation Committee.
The project is finally possible because Stamford received a $3 million grant from the state’s Small Harbor Improvement Projects Program.
“It was like Christmas morning for the harbor commission after the SHIPP grant was approved,” Ortelli told city representatives, who’d asked for an update on the project. “It was for things that have been in the weeds for so long. At low tide you could walk across the channel and not get your waist wet. It was not a fully functioning marina.”
The city hired a Branford company, Coastline Consulting & Development, to manage the project and obtain permits from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, City Engineer Lou Casolo told the committee.
The project, which will remove 10,400 cubic yards of sand from the channel, started in December and will wrap up by Jan. 31, Casolo said.
The large Luciano Construction trucks around the boat ramp and marina are drawing questions in Cove Island Park, one of the city’s most popular places year-round. Casolo said the Engineering Department put up signs explaining the project.
“It’s getting a lot of attention,” Casolo said. “People are interested in what’s happening there.”
Erin McKenna, an associate planner for the city, said she saw a big change on a recent visit to the Cove boat ramp.
“We were standing there at low tide and the water was five or six feet deep,” McKenna said. “Before there was no water at low tide.”
But it’s only the start of the dredging that needs to be done, Casolo told city representatives. There’s a Phase 2, which Coastline also is handling, Casolo said.
The second phase is possible because the city last summer won another $3 million SHIPP grant, he said.
“With that, we can work on Phase 2, which involves removing 18,000 cubic yards of material,” Casolo said.
Unlike the material removed in Phase 1, this is contaminated silt, he said. Coastline now is working with DEEP on obtaining the proper permits for that work, Casolo said.
“It has to be bid differently and it has different time frames because the material has to be moved off site,” he said. “It’s more complex and a higher volume, and it has to be handled in an approved manner.”
The contaminated material “has to go to a landfill,” McKenna said. “To do the rest of the channel and marina requires a different kind of permit, which could take up to two years.”
Ortelli said he’s concerned about completing the dredging project because SHIPP grants come through the Connecticut Port Authority, which is in the middle of a huge project at the New London State Pier.
The Port Authority and private partners Eversource and Orsted are redeveloping the New London pier in an offshore wind project that so far has cost $255 million. The Port Authority is expected to ask the State Bond Commission to borrow more money for the project, which is beset with delays and cost overruns.
“In cases like this, the small harbors take a back seat,” Ortelli said.
That’s not good news for other long-delayed projects in Stamford.
The municipal marina in Cummings Park has been closed since Superstorm Sandy damaged it in 2012. In 2015 the city came up with a parks Master Plan that included an estimate of $5 million to fix the Cummings marina.
“Last summer we got a grant for $236,000 to do a final design based on the Master Plan,” McKenna told the Parks & Recreation Committee. “But that $5 million estimate is from 2015; I don’t know how much it will cost now.”
Then there’s the boat ramp at West Beach, which has to be rebuilt. According to information provided by McKenna, that will cost about $2.3 million. Six years ago the city received a $120,000 SHIPP grant to design the project and, two years ago, another $1.4 million to build it. South End developer Building & Land Technology has been required by the Zoning Board to contribute $450,000, and the project is set to go out to bid.
But work can’t begin on the West Beach boat ramp until the Cove boat ramp is usable, McKenna said.
“We can’t close the only functioning boat ramp in Stamford until the other one works,” she said.
Money – from grants and city capital funds – is trickling in, and taking years, but boat ramps and marinas are in demand, said Ortelli, who kept a boat at Cummings until Superstorm Sandy wrecked that municipal marina.
“If you build it, they will come,” Ortelli said. “The boating industry has had a wonderful renaissance in the last few years.”