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PHOTOS: Rye Photographer 'Discovers Light Again' Capturing Harbor Dredging During Pandemic

Photographer Bob Consentino says the pandemic was the most creative period of his life, thanks in large part to an Army Corps of Engineers dredging project in Rye Harbor. 

Consentino picked up his camera after seeing big dredging machines appear in Rye Harbor last November. Recently retired from a career in health technology, Consentino said he and his wife walk down the coast most days from their home near Jenness Beach. 

“It was kind of a pandemic photography project, just to kind of see what I could do to stay busy while we were all locked down,” he said. Consentino photographed the Rye project from November 2020 to March of this year. 

Local boat owners say shoaling and sand buildup in the harbor channel had reached dangerous levels, and the five-month project marked the first time the harbor had been dredged in about 30 years, bringing some long-awaited relief. 

The Army Corps contracted a Maine-based company, Prock Marine, to do the dredging. Consentino said he got to know how the process worked by looking up the equipment he was photographing on Prock’s website. The company brought in tugboats, survey vessels and barges that carried excavators and vertical steel booms that would sit in the water as anchors. 

Consentino said one of his favorite days to shoot was an extreme low tide in February when the dredging barges and comparatively small tugboat were sitting up on the beach in a row. 

“It was amazing just to be able to walk out there and see how big this equipment was, just to be standing 10 feet away from it,” he said. 

The project used $4 million in Army Corps funding, which came thanks to a petition from harbor users and help from Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire's senior senator. She toured the harbor last fall and again last week to mark the end of the dredging with former New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg, who keeps a skiff in Rye. 

The dredged-up material from the bottom of the harbor was transported farther offshore to federally designated dump sites, including a new one near the Isle of Shoals

Toward the end of the project, he could see a survey boat near shore using buoys and computer equipment to map the bottom of the harbor, newly deepened and leveled out for safe navigation.

“And sure enough, within probably four days of that, they were gone. All of a sudden, we went for our morning walk, walked by Rye Harbor – they were gone,” Consentino said. 

While some neighbors might have been annoyed by the period of disruption, Consentino said the dredging provided a welcome distraction from the pandemic. He hadn’t worked with his camera this much in a long time, he said. 

“It was a great time just to get back into the basics of photography and go out and shoot,” Consentino said. “To just discover light again – I think that was it.”

Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.

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