Following a very positive meeting with John Brien, HHA Harbour Engineer, the Recharge is beginning to take shape. We would like to summarise where we are and where we think we are going.
Whilst the final decisions have not been confirmed, Harwich Harbour Authority has recently taken a number of important steps towards carrying out the capital dredge of the approaches to Harwich and Felixstowe which is essential to permit a new generation of huge container ships to access the Harbour at all states of tide. They are planning to submit an application to the MMO for consent to the dredge around June 2019 and hopes to be in a position to issue tenders in 2020. The recharge could potentially be carried out in 2021.
Harwich has a legal obligation to cooperate with others to see if material from the dredge can be used for “beneficial use”, but is not obliged to ensure that these projects are funded or completed. The Mersea Recharge meets this requirement admirably and the Authority is keen to work with us.
The completed Environment Statement and Application for consent for the Mersea Harbour works were submitted to the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) in September 2016 and finally granted, with conditions, in March 2018. Consent is valid for 10 years. This process has cost the Trust just under £83k including consultancy fees and surveys required to prepare the Environmental Statement as well as fees to the MMO and DEFRA of £18k. We are indebted to the Members as well as Essex County Council, Essex Community Foundation, Colchester and West Mersea Councils, Mersea Moorings Association and others from whom we have received a total of £87k.
The East Anglian Flood Committee of the Environment Agency have committed to support the anticipated £300k charge from Harwich Harbour Authority for supply, delivery and placement of the recharge material and a further £52k for post recharge monitoring and other costs. However, as the money comes from central Government, the project is required to go through the appropriate assurance process to ensure that the project meets all the environmental, technical and economic requirements and provides best value to the taxpayer. With support from the EA we have prepared a Business Case to seek formal approval of the £350k funding, which is being finalised and due to be submitted shortly. We await final confirmation but are confident of a positive outcome.
Meanwhile, the Crown Estate are beginning to suggest that they might charge us for depositing material on their land (seabed !) if there is deemed to be any commercial benefit involved. We have pointed out that any significant cost could put the whole project at risk. We await their further response.
With the Recharge looking like it could start in just two years’ time, we have been putting together very specific plans as to the management and operational requirements of the project including fulfilling our obligations under the MMO consents, which include surveys and monitoring activities from now until five years after completion. Some of this work is about the local birdlife, and the Little Tern in particular. We are delighted that the RSPB have agreed to take full responsibility for this major task at no cost to the Trust, and we are pleased to confirm that Dougal Urquhart has volunteered to coordinate with them.
Amongst the other tasks will be the construction and ongoing maintenance of a series of brushwood fences on each of the recharge sites. This will require a team of willing volunteers. We will need to set up navigation marks and withies to guide the dredger into position and where to direct the stream of material as it is pumped out. There will be an oysterman in attendance to the dredger on each and every delivery to ensure precise positioning and to check that it does not commence until the ebb tide is away.
Conscious of the real risk that the few key players who have brought the project this far could fall by the wayside, and in any case do not have all the project management, administrative and communication skills, or time and energy to see the job through, we have recognised the need to identify additional people to join the team and take specific roles. We have therefore developed a detailed Construction and Monitoring (Succession Management) Plan to become the Operating Manual to guide the team through the process from today through to the end of the five-year monitoring cycle.
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