HERNANDO BEACH — Boaters who use the Hernando Beach Channel should have clear sailing this busy Labor Day weekend.
That's because the ongoing dredging of the channel will be halted during the day today, Sunday and Monday, according to a schedule released by the contractor through Hernando County officials.
The only dredging over the weekend will be from 9 p.m. until 1 a.m. on those days.
The channel has been closed when mechanical dredging is taking place. Each barge carrying excavators doing the work is surrounded by curtains to contain any fine materials that are produced during the process, and that configuration blocks the channel.
The channel can be opened in emergency situations. Any boater requiring emergency passage should radio channel 68 and use the call sign Konga West Dredge while en route to give the contractor time to clear the turbidity curtains and barges and open the channel.
Officials have asked boaters to be patient during construction since normal passage could be delayed up to an hour.
They also warn that boaters should use caution around the work crews and must observe a "no wake zone" within 300 feet of the dredge equipment.
When the work is done, the 3-mile channel will have been dredged to a depth of 6 feet at mean low water, widened to 60 feet at the channel bottom, lengthened to extend to Watts Tower and straightened to eliminate the blind turn at the beginning of the channel.
The long-stalled project has been in the works for more than 16 years, and Hernando is facing a deadline to wrap it up by the end of the year or possibly lose millions of dollars in state funds.
Dredge officials have expressed confidence that they will meet that deadline.
For information on the channel dredging project and for up-to-date dredging schedules, visit co.hernando.fl.us/bocc/Dredge.htm.
For all boaters on area waters, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission issued a media release urging people to observe boating safety rules during the busy holiday weekend.
Those rules include cautious operation of boats, having all necessary safety equipment on board, wearing life jackets and boating sober.
Statewide, there have been 37 boating accident fatalities this year.
Reach Barbara Behrendt at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.