BY COLLEEN SAVILLE
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A $4.5-million project to dredge the Schuylkill River is at a halt after six months and with less than five percent of the project complete, according to Bonnie Mueller, vice commodore of the Schuylkill Navy.
The Schuylkill Navy hosts some of rowing’s most beloved regattas and has been vocal for years about the sediment buildup on the river floor that has made some outside racing lanes as shallow as two feet while others are 10 feet. For the Schuylkill to remain a fair and safe racecourse, all racing lanes must be of equal depth.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has dredged the river for decades but because of budget restraints turned to the community for support when it became clear that the river needed dredging urgently. In response, key stakeholders, including the city of Philadelphia and local clubs and universities, came together to fund a dredge. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers agreed to oversee the work and awarded the project to ASI Group Ltd., which was contracted to begin June 2020 with a projected completion date of December 2020.
Last month, ASI stopped working entirely, claiming differing site conditions from what they expected because of natural debris on the river floor. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rejects that claim, as does the city of Philadelphia and Schuylkill Navy.
“We at Schuylkill Navy believe the contractor failed to approach the job in the manner they should have. From our perspective, it makes sense to excavate some of the debris, followed by hydraulic dredging. That is not what the contractor did,” said Mueller. “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers repeatedly shared opinions and suggestions with ASI on how to successfully accomplish the project. ASI did not take all of those suggestions.”
Today, the work site remains active, even though work has halted. The next steps are in the hands of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in partnership with its contracting office and in consultation with ASI.
“For us at Schuylkill Navy, it’s incredibly frustrating and disappointing that we’re in the state that we’re in,” Mueller said. “But the silver lining is the way in which our local community has pulled together. On a weekly basis, I am humbled and inspired by the cooperation and the support from our community during these incredibly difficult times.
“That said, Schuylkill Navy is prepared and equipped to keep our sights on the goal and the finish line. We will not stop the pursuit of the successful completion of this job. And as difficult, painful, and tiresome as it is, we understand the concept of one stroke at a time, regardless of pain. Eventually, if you do that, you will get to the finish line, and that’s what we intend to do.”