City settles dredging suit, looks at alternatives

JAIME CAMPOS/Staff file photoA dredging barge sits along the confluence of the Bass and Danvers rivers in Beverly in 2019, waiting to begin dredging the Bass River. The city of Beverly has reached a settlement with the dredging firm and a consultant over the failed project.  

BEVERLY — The city of Beverly has reached a settlement with a Salem marine dredging firm and a consultant over a failed plan to dredge the Bass River in 2019 — a plan that had to be dropped at the last minute after a federal agency rescinded a permit to dump the material in the ocean due to contamination. 

The settlement was reported to a federal judge on Wednesday following a mediation session involving the city, Burnham Associates of Salem, and GEI Consulting. The terms of the settlement have not yet been disclosed, 

"I think everyone is satisfied," Beverly Mayor Mike Cahill said on Thursday, though he acknowledged that the city is still exploring alternatives to dumping dredged material offshore — alternatives that will make the project more costly. 

The city had hired Burnham to undertake a $2.8 million dredging project in 2019 that would have removed six decades of sediment that was hindering navigation in the Bass River. 

The money was a combination of state and city funds. 

The city had also hired a consultant, GEI (and a predecessor firm) to handle site testing and permitting for the project. 

Burnham set up its equipment and then began inquiring about the permit to dispose of the materials at sea, in designated areas. 

That's when the Army Corps of Engineers apparently first realized that four of the samples taken from the river bed had shown higher than allowed levels of hazardous chemicals. The agency then decided not to issue the permit.

The contractor sued last year, seeking more than $1.2 million in expenses for the canceled project.

The litigation ultimately ended up with the city filing a claim against GEI and GEI filing a claim against the city. 

Cahill also said the city is still pursuing a claim against the Army Corps of Engineers. 

The mayor declined to discuss the terms of the settlement before it is put into writing and signed by all of the parties. 

Beverly is looking into alternative means of disposing of dredge material, including a method involving burying it below the river bed or at another site, options that are likely to be far costlier, Cahill said. A feasibility study is underway. 

It's also not clear yet how that effort will be funded. 

But with the hazards potentially created for boaters, it's work Cahill said is needed. 

"We're not giving up," said Cahill. 

Messages left for the attorneys representing GEI and Burnham were not immediately returned on Thursday. 

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis. 


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