If you dredge it, officials say, the megayachts will come; Deepening of Intracoastal Waterway begins (Thursday, May 5, 2016)

If you dredge it, officials say, the megayachts will come; Deepening of Intracoastal Waterway begins (Tap on blue twice for news article)

William G. Crawford, Jr., editor

Fort Lauderdale, Fla.–On Thursday, May 5, 2016, the Florida Inland Navigation District (FIND) began a two-year dredging project to deepen the Intracoastal Waterway to a minimum of 10 to 12 feet from the 17th Street Causeway Bridge north to the Sunrise Bridge to attract the burgeoning mega yacht business.

From 1912 to 1929, the Intracoastal Waterway was a privately owned waterway initially owned by St. Augustine investors that  collected tolls from boats crossing six chains at different points from Jacksonville, Fla. to Miami, Fla.  In 1881, the Florida Coast Line Canal & Transportation Company agreed to dredge the waterway for a grant of  3,840 acres of Florida owned land for every mile of waterway dredged to a depth of five feet and a width of fifty feet and the right to collect tolls. 

By 1912, the private enterprise comprised mostly of New England investors received over one million acres of public land along Florida’s Atlantic coast for dredging 268 miles of  waterway according to state specifications. Although more than 80% of the waterway’s length had already consisted of water courses, lagoons, estuaries, and sounds, commercially viable vessels like steamboats could not navigate these waters without some dredging.  In Fort Lauderdale, waterways generally were three to four feet deep and tidally influenced.  

Work in Fort Lauderdale to dredge a course through the New River Sound to create a depth of five feet deep and fifty feet wide occurred between 1893 and 1896.   In the early 1920’s, about a mile west of today’s downtown on the South Fork of the New River, boaters throughout the country regarded the Pilkington Yacht Basin as  the largest covered yacht basin Florida. This basin accommodated almost exclusively flat-bottomed boats and houseboats. In sum, while the city had been known as the ‘Gateway to the Everglades’, most of its waters were non-navigable without dredging.  In 1929, the Federal government assumed control of the waterway. The State of Florida retained ownership of the bottom lands as they existed on the date of statehood, March 3, 1845.  Tolls would no longer be collected on the Florida East Coast Canal upon assumption of control by the Federal government.

Tap twice on the blue sentence at the top of this page.

Back to the future: the Chesapeake and Delaware River Canal

Completed in 1829 during the first great Canal Era when arguments over Constitutional restraints kept Congress from using Federal taxpayer money to fund inland waterway construction, a private company completed the 17-mile waterway between the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays.

The original waterway was a tollway ten feet deep and sixty-six feet wide, with a boat channel thirty-six feet wide. It had four locks, each 110 feet long and 22 feet wide, later enlarged to 220 feet long and 24 feet wide.  The canal system later gave way to the faster and more economical railway by the time of the Civil War.

Today, the Canal has 5 fixed bridges and one lift bridge.  The four locks have been removed. The Chesapeake and Delaware Canal serves as an important inland link in the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway from Boston to Miami.

To see a short film of a boat transiting the Canal, Tap on this:

Corthell’s 1889 Estimate of the Cost to Complete the Florida East Coast Canal


In 1888, Florida canal company general manager George F. Miles engaged acclaimed Chicago waterway and railway engineer Elmer Corthell to survey the soil, rock, sand, and other material the Company dredges would likely encounter in completing the waterway and to estimate the cost of completion.

In turn, Corthell employed a former Army engineer, Artur [sic] Wrotnowski, to perform the actual on-the-ground measurements between bodies of water, their depths, and distances, with calculations of how much material the Florida canal company would have to move to comply with state requirements. Corthell reviewed Wrotnowski’s survey in detail and reported to the directors of the Florida canal company the amount of material to be moved and the cost to complete the waterway.

Corthell also considered mounting marine vessels on railway cars to transit difficult-to-dredge dry land between waterways but rejected the railway alternative as too expensive to maintain. In conclusion, Corthell endorsed the project on a ‘pay as you go’ basis, starting with minimum depths now, using the waterway to generate revenue to dredge a deeper and wider waterway later.  Withal, Corthell thought the Florida East Coast economy robust, more than enough to justify his estimated cost to complete of a little over $1 million in  1889 ($26 million in historic standard-of-living dollars today, 2014). Courtesy, Brown University, Hay Library, Providence, Rhode Island.

South Carolina and Georgia shut out of Federal funds for Intracoastal; Florida’s FIND picks up slack

South Carolina and Georgia Face Dredging Problems

Locals take action on ICW dredging problem

Date Reported: May 30, 2014
AIWW Mile: 430.0
Reported by: Mike Ahart, News Editor
If the federal government won’t pay to maintain the ICW in South Carolina, and the State won’t help either, municipalities can either suffer the consequences or do something about it.

And that’s exactly what the members of the Charleston County Council did last night – they voted to pledge $500,000 in matching funds over the next two years to dredge and maintain the waterway, which they consider “an economic driver for our community.”

But isn’t that a mere shovelful of the estimated $5-million-plus needed just to fix a few trouble spots, much less regain and maintain a 12-foot MLW project depth for the 90 miles of ICW that run through the county?

“It’s a great starting point,” said Brad Pickel, Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway Association (AIWA) Executive Director, who has championed this cause on every level of government. In February, the AIWA had ten meetings with Congressional members and staff to discuss the needs of the ICW from Virginia to Florida. Courtesy, Waterway Guide.

James Louis Colee (1834-1912)


Original incorporator and director of the Florida canal company, James Colee (pronounced, ‘Coolee’) served as an engineer in the dredging of the Intracoastal Waterway until his death in 1912. Colee also served as state representative and county commissioner for St. Johns County and was a stockholder in the First National Bank of St. Augustine. In Fort Lauderdale, a bend in the New River is known as Colee Hammock and Colee is pronounced there as ‘Ko-lee’ Hammock. Colee is a French Huguenot name and pronounced throughout St. Johns County (St. Augustine) as ‘Coolee’. There is much confusion in Fort Lauderdale between William Cooley, justice of the peace in the New River area and whose family was massacred by the Seminoles in 1836 and James Colee who camped in the hammock there during his survey work for the waterway in 1893. Perhaps the difference in pronunciation led to the confusion between the two names. Courtesy, Donn R. Colee (an eighth generation native Floridian).