‘Shoaling,’ not dredging, required in two creeks

October 30, 2013
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provided this photo of “shoaling” in Chartiers Creek near the Jessop Place exit of Interstate 70.

Terminology may have led to confusion about Washington County’s responsibility to maintain a clear channel in about 10 miles of streambed as noted in a recent inspection report prepared by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Daniel Jones, spokesman for the corps of engineers in Pittsburgh, speculated that when county officials saw “removing sediment” in an Army Corps of Engineers report on Chartiers Creek near the Jessop Place exit of Interstate 70 and Burgett’s Fork in Burgettstown, they probably thought of dredging. However, the prescribed work is actually removing shoals, or shallow spots that are created by sand banks or sand bars.

Sediment build-up is a natural occurrence, but Jones said a severe storm could also cause the deposit of a large amount of sediment in an area.

“To keep the capacity of the channel, that sediment has to be removed,” Jones said.

The corps warned the county that if it fails to clear the channel to corps specifications, the county, not the corps, would be liable for flood damage.

The corps rated Burgett’s Fork as “unacceptable,” meaning that the local sponsor – the county – would no longer be eligible for rehabilitation assistance for flood damage.

The parts of Chartiers Creek, near the Washington-Canton Township boundary, are rated as “minimally acceptable,” which means that maintenance should be performed within two years.

“To the corps, removing sediment and dredging are two completely different things. Shoaling is like a sediment bar,” said Marc Glowczewski, a civilian civil engineer with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Pittsburgh, who inspected the two local waterways during the spring of this year. “Dredging is an entirely different process that means scraping the entire bottom. I can tell you there are not 10 miles of shoals within those projects. Dredging covers a larger area and penetrates more deeply into a streambed. Complying with the corps’ requirements might be somewhat less daunting than county officials anticipated.

The county is responsible for maintaining about 10 miles of creek and stream waterway, and officials feared that all of it would have to be dredged. If the work would have to take place from each bank, the scope of the project would then be 20 miles.

Jones said the Chartiers Creek protection project includes about 5,250 linear feet of shoal removal – just 30 feet short of a mile – while the Burgett’s Fork project entails about 3,500 linear feet.

Scott Fergus, Washington County director of administration, said the county is questioning “whether we can do it with our two guys or if we have to bring in equipment” and that Lisa Cessna, planning director, is trying to set up a meeting with the corps to determine the county’s scope of work.

Question marks about both the potential cost of the project and the scope came up last week during a Washington County budget hearing.

The inspections are done every two years. Burgett’s Fork has been maintained by the county since 1952 and the Washington-Canton Township part of Chartiers Creek since 1962.

“These are not new responsibilities,” Jones said. The county during each of those years was given a manual addressing specific waterway issues, and keeping up with the maintenance outlined in it is a part of the county’s compliance.

Glowczewski agreed with a published comment of Donahue’s last week that it’s not practical to attempt this project with shovels and wheelbarrows.

Mechanical equipment for clearing streams was described as a vehicle with a long arm for reaching into a stream from far enough from the bank so the water’s edge would not be damaged.

Lisa Cessna said the county, in some areas, lacks easements or legal right to enter creekside property.

“As the local sponsors, it’s up to them to provide easements,” Glowczewski said of counties, noting that restoration the corps would have done in the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan would have required some type of easement.

As to a possible quid pro quo that may have arisen from the county’s creation of a lake by damming Cross Creek, Glowczewski said, “The corps may have constructed it, but I don’t believe the corps has a facility at Cross Creek.”

Also among the county-maintained waterways are Gorby Run and Pike Run in California’s Granville Hollow. According to the corps, this is a separate project that is scheduled to be inspected Friday.

Barbara S. Miller covers politics, Washington County government and a variety of other topics for the Observer-Reporter. She is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, majoring in English and history. Follow her on Twitter @reporterbarb.

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