Dredging up muck in Morro Bay

The largest dredging operation in Morro Bay in nearly a decade is up and running.

The project started a couple of weeks later than originally planned but is still on schedule, said Jim Mills, the engineer overseeing the project for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The work is expected to be complete in mid-February. It calls for hundreds of thousands of cubic meters of sand and silt to be removed from the entrance to the harbor as well as the federally designated navigational channels within the bay.

The project got off to a slow start because the contractor for the job, AIS Construction of Carpinteria, had to bring in equipment from around the state and troubleshoot new equipment acquired for the work, Mills said.

“At $8 million, this is a pretty good-sized project,” he said.

The contractor also had to deal with a 10-gallon hydraulic fluid spill on Nov. 10. The fluid is biodegradable and was quickly contained and cleaned up, Mills said.

As expected, harbor officials have received several complaints from bayside hoteliers about noise made by the project’s scoop dredge. Most of the sand is being removed by a quiet electric-powered suction dredge, but the mechanical scoop dredge is needed to clean out the back part of the bay, said Rick Algert, harbor manager.

Sand generated by the suction dredge is being deposited on Morro Strand State Beach north of Morro Rock as a way to augment the beach and protect nesting habitat of a shorebird, the snowy plover, a threatened species.

After the work is complete, beach augmentation will likely attract metal detector enthusiasts who scan the beach for coins and other metal oddities deposited there by the dredging, Mills said.

Reach David Sneed at 781-7930.