Department of Transportation

Dredged Material Management

New Jersey/New York Harbor

Dredged material management in the NY/NJ Harbor is primarily driven by three major factors: the natural shallow water necessitating frequent dredging to maintain shipping access; the historical industrial and urban use resulting in widespread water and sediment contamination; and the current competition for limited resources (land and water) by one of the most densely populated urban areas in North America.

Since the time that the first ports in North America opened in Salem and Perth Amboy, dredging has been necessary in the harbors and waterways of New Jersey. Historically, dredged materials (commonly referred to as “spoils”) were placed wherever it was convenient. However, this practice was halted by the Corps of Engineers in the early 19th century as unsafe and impractical. The Corps regulated dredging and dredged material placement by creating and managing sites for placement that were navigationally, if not environmentally, safe. Many islands in NY/NJ Harbor today are, in fact, largely dredged materials including parts of Ellis Island, Governor’s Island and Shooters Island, to name a few.

As shipping and commerce grew however, this policy became outdated as well, necessitating that dredged materials be managed further and further from the Harbor. In the early 20th century, dredged materials were placed off Sandy Hook. In the 1970s, new environmental laws mandated careful siting of dredged material management sites. The NY District of the Corps and the newly created US Environmental Protection Agency selected a site about 10 km off Sandy Hook at the mouth of the Hudson Canyon. This 6.5 km area, affectionately known as “the Mud Dump”, became the sole repository of dredged material for the next 30 years. However, as environmental science improved, new methods for evaluating dredged materials and contaminated sediments became commonplace and stricter rules were adopted. In the early 1990s, the Mud Dump became off limits for most of the material dredged from Harbor channels and berths.

The Office of Maritime Resources was formed during the crisis that resulted from the closure of the Mud Dump, with the primary objective of finding a solution for dredged material management in the Harbor. Using funds provided from the Harbor Revitalization and Dredging Bond Act of 1996 and the Joint Plan for Dredging in the Port of NY and NJ, the New Jersey Department of Transportation's Office of Maritime Resources (NJDOT/OMR) has evaluated, tested and promoted alternatives to ocean disposal of dredged materials while at the same time ensuring that our Ports and waterways stay commercially viable and safe. Today, on average, between 2 and 4 million cubic yards of dredged material are removed and safely managed every year, and as much as half of that material is too contaminated to be placed in the ocean.

A complete outline of the progress made by NJDOT/OMR and our agency partners in the region is available in an article (pdf 101k) published in the Journal of Dredging Engineering. In short, the region now relies on a four point plan to manage all dredged materials in the Harbor region:

  • Reduce the need to dredge
  • Reduce contamination
  • Beneficially use as much as possible
  • Dispose of only what cannot be used

The complete strategy to implement this plan and an analysis of alternatives is presented in the regionally developed Dredged Material Management Plan for the NY/NJ Harbor (DMMP) and its Implementation Plans. This document is the official position of the NY District of the US Army Corps of Engineers, but is a rationale fully supported by NJDOT/OMR.

NJDOT/OMR continues to be in the forefront of dredged materials management planning and research promoting the beneficial use of dredged materials to the maximum extent possible. To date, over 8 million cubic yards of contaminated dredged materials have been used at upland sites in the Harbor, bringing about increased employment, remediation of contaminated landfills and brownfields, and increasing available lands for economic enhancement in the Harbor region. Our innovative Sediment Decontamination Technology Demonstration Program, has received attention world-wide.

In an effort to evaluate the potential benefits of more direct public involvement in dredged material processing and placement, the US Army Corps of Engineers initiated a series of studies on the economics and feasibility of a public processing facility (PPF). To date, the following studies and reports are available.

NJDOT/OMR will continue to participate in the feasibility studies of such a facility as part of its participation in the NY/NJ Harbor Regional Dredging Team.

You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the PDF files which is available at our state Adobe Acrobat Access page.

Last updated date: August 7, 2019 10:37 AM