By admin ~ February 2nd, 2012. Filed under: Southeast Report.
Plan to stay afloat on the AIWW
Wintry blasts are upon us now, making it a good time to start planning cruises for warmer weather. For those who use the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (AIWW), 2012 may pose more challenges than in previous years. Why? Money.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) relies on the Federal Government for funding to dredge the AIWW. The waterway is supposed to be maintained with a minimum depth of 12 feet but that hasn’t been the case for a number of years now. As the Corps’ budget is cut, the amount of work it does is limited. When budget “earmarks” were more acceptable, strong legislators from coastal Atlantic states could add more funds for the different USACE districts.
At the November 2011 meeting of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway Association (AIWA), every speaker from the USACE emphasized that they had little or no funding for dredging and didn’t anticipate that situation changing over the next two years. This affects both commercial and recreational boat traffic. The only good news is that part of the stimulus package that went to shovel-ready projects found its way to the Corps. Many trouble spots were dredged and surveys were updated last year. The only fuel stop on the Dismal Swamp Canal route, Lambs Marine, now has its entrance channel dredged to a minimum water depth of eight feet and six inches at MLLW.
Other continuous trouble spots like the Shallotte Inlet Crossing in North Carolina, the Ashepoo-Coosaw Cutoff in South Carolina and Fields Cut in Georgia were dredged early in 2011 but required more dredging later in the year. Shoaling is a constant issue in these areas so keep your tide charts handy.
The Corps is trying to make it easier for you to at least know where you might have draft problems. Both the Wilmington and Charleston District websites have utilized Geographic Information Systems (GIS), coupled with Google Earth, to track water depths. There is a wealth of information under channel conditions and hydrographic maps as well—just be sure to check the date of the survey for the data available. The Wilmington site also has a shoaling trouble spot map under the AIWW tab that covers from Beaufort, North Carolina to Little River, South Carolina (saw.usace.army.mil/nav). Below the maps are waypoints and coordinates to add to your chart plotter. The Wilmington website also has direct links to the other USACE South Atlantic districts.
The Charleston District site, from Little River to Port Royal, is broken into smaller sections to allow downloads and printouts in more manageable sizes for recreational boats to use. For each section, there is a chart map with segments marked. Opening one of the segments shows a Google Earth map with the channel delineated in colors that indicate the depth. I found the channel condition reports to be much easier to understand than those on the Wilmington site (sac.usace.army.mil/?action=navigation).
The channel condition reports are easy to understand for the Savannah District (sas.usace.army.mil), but the AIWW section is just a written report. The Jacksonville District (saj.usace.army.mil) does include hydrographic surveys by sections of the waterway and survey dates. Its hydrographic surveys do show a photo that is downloadable as a PDF with the channel superimposed with numerical depth readings.
Still, all the sophisticated gadgetry in the world is not going to help us plan safe passages if the AIWW is closed in more and more spots because the Corps can’t dredge. Let your Federal and local legislators know how much this waterway means to you and all your boating friends.