St. Lucie Inlet

Project Update:

The inlet dredging project got off to a good start in early September, but waves from Hurricane Irma made continued operations impossible. The Dredge retreated to safe harbor where it remained as Jose and Maria also passed by. Ultimately, the decision was made to suspend dredging for the duration of the Nor’easter season and schedule the dredge to return when improved sea conditions can be expected.

The Norfolk dredge Virginian is scheduled to return in the Spring of 2018 when Northeast storms are less likely and calmer seas should prevail.

Federal Dredging Project:

Designed as a means for keeping the St. Lucie Inlet predictably and permanently navigable at authorized depths, the summer 2017 inlet maintenance project consists of dredging of shoal material. The work will entail maintenance dredging of Cut‐1 to depths varying from 16 to 18 feet plus 2 feet of allowable over depth, and Impoundment Basin to 16 feet plus 2 feet of allowable over depth. All dredged material will be placed in a permitted offshore storage area which lies approximately 10.6 nautical miles southeast of the inlet.

The St. Lucie Inlet connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian River Lagoon, the St. River, the Hobe Sound Narrows and the Intracoastal Waterway. These waterways are used by both recreational and commercial vessels and have shaped our communities over many generations. The natural flow of water moving from north to south causes shoaling (sand build up) to occur within the St. Lucie Inlet. When left unmanaged, shoaling in the Inlet creates serious navigational obstructions and limits the use of the Inlet as Martin County’s only outlet to the ocean. 

This dredging operation is the first step in a two-step process, removing nearly 400,000 cubic yards of beach quality sand from the inlet and transporting it to the permitted "borrow site." The second step, to be completed in the next few years, will move sand from the borrow site to down drift beaches as part of a future re-nourishment project, providing critical storm damage protection while restoring beach wildlife habitats. This innovative process provides maximum efficiency and an estimated savings of up to 15 percent over traditional methods. 

About the St. Lucie Inlet:

The St. Lucie Inlet is located on the southeast Atlantic coast of Florida separating the barrier islands of Hutchinson Island to the north and Jupiter Island to the south. The inlet connects the Atlantic Ocean to several lagoon and estuarine tidal systems, including the Indian River Lagoon to the north, St. Lucie River to the west, and Hobe Sound and the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway to the south.

The inlet was originally opened in 1892 by local residents seeking navigable access with the Atlantic Ocean. The initial cut was 30 feet wide and five feet deep, however, after six years, the inlet had widened by 1,700 feet and had deepened to 6 to 7 feet. In 1922, the channel had grown to a width of 2,600 feet.

The St. Lucie Inlet serves a vital role in Martin County’s economy, ecosystems, and lifestyle of its residents. Commercial, sport, and recreational fishing define life in this community and each relies on safe and dependable use of the inlet. St. Lucie Inlet is one of the widest in Florida, nearly a half mile (2,362 feet), making this shallow draft inlet vulnerable to elevated sea states. It became a federal project in 1913 through the Rivers and Harbors Act.

The St. Lucie Inlet Management plan was adopted by the state 1995 and updated in 2016. It identified a preliminary bypass goal of 195,000 cy/yr. with 161,000 cy/yr. to the south and 34,000 cy/yr. to the north. Placement has frequently been in the Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge, focusing on the area of Peck Lake. 

Dredging is typically conducted every two to four years to control shoaling in the three major reaches of this essential channel. Severe storms and adverse weather conditions can expedite the need for dredging, however, as material from beach and ocean areas settles in the mouth of the inlet and the inner channel, forming obstructive shoals. This shoaling results in an unreliable channel for boat traffic, negatively impacting safe navigation.

Of equal consequence is the health of the Indian River Lagoon, which depends on the natural flushing action provided by the healthy, open Inlet to remove stormwater runoff and discharge from Lake Okeechobee. Dredging provides effective management and bypassing of sands entering the Inlet, which maintains and enhances the natural flushing of these aquatic preserves.