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Rye Harbor Dredging Begins In November, After 30 Years Of Sand Build-Up

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Annie Ropeik
/
NHPR
Vessel owners say they've struggled with economic impacts from shoaling in the harbor due to a lack of dredging.

Rye Harbor is officially set to be dredged for the first time in 30 years this winter, addressing a build-up of sand that local vessel owners say threatened their livelihoods.  

Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat who’s up for reelection, toured the harbor Wednesday. She helped get the dredging project approved after a petition from local fishermen and charter boat captains.

Vessel owners say they were struggling with economic impacts from sand building up in the harbor, causing it to be dangerously shallow and unnavigable at low tide.

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Credit Annie Ropeik / NHPR
Senator Jeanne Shaheen helped get the dredging approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. She toured the harbor Wednesday with former New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg, in red, and Rye Harbormaster Leo Axtin, left.

Shaheen, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, pushed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to prioritize and fund the $4 million project.

"They have come to recognize how critical our small harbors in New Hampshire are, and just how desperate the situation has become here in Rye,” Shaheen said Wednesday.

The last time the harbor was dredged, according to local officials, it had been 28 years since the prior dredge and the sand build-up was just as bad as it is now.

The latest round of dredging is now set to take place from November to March. A company in Maine won the contract for the project.  

"So hopefully by next summer when you come down to this harbor, everybody will be able to go out and not have to worry about the shoaling and whether their boat can make it in if it's not high tide,” Shaheen said.

The town of Rye says it sees $5 million in economic impact a year from the harbor, which hosts private vessels, commercial fishing boats that catch lobster and groundfish, and whale watching. Charter vessels also use it for recreational fishing.  

Harbor officials say boat owners who have to operate on a schedule have particularly suffered from the shoaling.

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Credit Annie Ropeik / NHPR
Rye Harbor hosts commercial and charter fishing vessels, as well as whale watching boats and private craft.

Shaheen was also joined by New Hampshire’s former U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg, a Republican. He lives nearby and keeps a skiff in Rye Harbor.

“And it’s usually on the sand,” he said, due to the shoaling causing shallow water. “So when my grandchildren are here, I have to pick the time of day before I can take them out. But thanks to Senator Shaheen and everybody’s efforts, that’s not going to be true next year. We can go out whenever we want.”

Officials say the dredged material was deemed clean enough to dump at an offshore Army Corps disposal site – either off Cape Arundel, Maine, or near the Isle of Shoals, where they say a new site is awaiting final federal approval.

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